Anxiety and the interpretation of ambiguity: a text comprehension study

J Abnorm Psychol. 1993 May;102(2):238-47. doi: 10.1037//0021-843x.102.2.238.


Beck's influential cognitive account of anxiety has led to the prediction that individuals vulnerable to anxiety should favor threatening interpretations of ambiguity (e.g., Beck & Clark, 1988; Beck, Emery, & Greenberg, 1986). The current study introduces a novel adaptation of the RSVP technique, previously used in text comprehension research, to evaluate this hypothesis. Results suggest that a group of 24 high trait anxious students did indeed selectively impose threatening interpretations on unconstrained ambiguous sentences. In contrast, a matched group of 24 low trait anxious students appeared to selectively impose non-threatening interpretations on such ambiguous sentences. These findings are fully consistent with the predicted anxiety-linked interpretative bias. Specific testable hypotheses are developed concerning the types of interpretative idiosyncrasies that plausibly may contribute to pathological anxiety.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Anxiety Disorders / psychology*
  • Arousal
  • Depressive Disorder / psychology*
  • Female
  • Heart Rate
  • Humans
  • Language
  • Male
  • Speech Perception
  • Surveys and Questionnaires