Simply Imagining Sunshine, Lollipops and Rainbows Will Not Budge the Bias: The Role of Ambiguity in Interpretive Bias Modification

Cognit Ther Res. 2014;38(2):120-131. doi: 10.1007/s10608-013-9564-x.


Imagery-based interpretive bias modification (CBM-I) involves repeatedly imagining scenarios that are initially ambiguous before being resolved as either positive or negative in the last word/s. While the presence of such ambiguity is assumed to be important to achieve change in selective interpretation, it is also possible that the act of repeatedly imagining positive or negative events could produce such change in the absence of ambiguity. The present study sought to examine whether the ambiguity in imagery-based CBM-I is necessary to elicit change in interpretive bias, or, if the emotional content of the imagined scenarios is sufficient to produce such change. An imagery-based CBM-I task was delivered to participants in one of four conditions, where the valence of imagined scenarios were either positive or negative, and the ambiguity of the scenario was either present (until the last word/s) or the ambiguity was absent (emotional valence was evident from the start). Results indicate that only those who received scenarios in which the ambiguity was present acquired an interpretive bias consistent with the emotional valence of the scenarios, suggesting that the act of imagining positive or negative events will only influence patterns of interpretation when the emotional ambiguity is a consistent feature.

Keywords: Ambiguity; CBM-I; Imagery; Interpretive bias; Interpretive bias modification.