Semantic Priming and Interpretation Bias in Social Anxiety Disorder
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Cognitive models of social anxiety posit that recurrent interpretation of ambiguous information as threatening is involved in maintaining symptoms of social anxiety. Researchers have used several methodologies to assess interpretation bias in social anxiety, including homographs (i.e., words with two meanings, e.g., chicken-poultry and chicken-scared). In the current study, we examined the effects of priming in 21 individuals with social anxiety disorder and 21 non-anxious control participants. All participants completed a homograph priming paradigm. In this task, participants see a fixation cross followed by a homograph prime. This homograph is then followed by related or unrelated neutral, physical, or social threat target words examining the priming effect of the homograph on the target. As hypothesized, for non-threat targets, we obtained the typical priming effect in all participants. Moreover, we found that individuals with social anxiety disorder were slower to respond to related social threat targets compared to unrelated social threat targets when these targets were preceded by socially relevant homographs. These data suggest that individuals with social anxiety disorder inhibit social threat meaning of ambiguous primes perhaps due to a vigilance-avoidance pattern of threat relevant information.
KeywordsInterpretation bias Semantic priming Social anxiety Information processing
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