An examination of the relations between mood-induced interpretations of ambiguity, cognitive errors, and girls’ symptoms of anxiety versus depression



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The rates of comorbidity between anxiety and depression are quite high. For many people, symptoms often originate in youth. These two findings warrant research that examines anxiety and depression together among samples of youth. Cognitive theory has advanced our understanding of the etiology, maintenance, and treatment of these disorders; however, gaps in the research remain. To extend previous research, this study examined cognitive processes stemming from Crick and Dodge’s (1994) social information processing model and Beck’s models (Beck, 1976; Beck et al., 1985) of anxiety and depression. In line with theory, this study utilized a negative mood induction to prime negative schema, which has not been systematically utilized in previous research. Additionally, cognitive theory posits that salient stimuli should be processed differently than non-salient stimuli. Thus, the current study examined interpretation biases for salient and non-salient ambiguous scenarios in relation to anxiety and depression in a community sample of girls ages 11-14 years (n = 124). The study also examined interpretation biases for ambiguity and cognitive errors in relation to internalizing symptoms. The results revealed that after controlling for comorbid symptoms, threatening interpretations of ambiguity were not related to symptoms of anxiety or depression. The results also showed that when girls generated negative responses, negative interpretations of ambiguity were related to symptoms of anxiety and depression. Additionally, positive interpretations of ambiguity were related to depression but not anxiety. Importantly, the relation between interpretations biases and internalizing symptoms varied on whether girls responded to open-ended questions or whether girls generated specific responses. Lastly, evidence emerged that interpretation biases for ambiguity may be a construct distinct from cognitive errors, but this relation may only be true for models of depression and not anxiety. A notable limitation of the study included the use of a community sample, as opposed to at-risk or clinical samples, with low levels of symptoms. Also, anxiety and depression were highly correlated. Thus, in the analyses, a large proportion of the variance in the outcome variables was partialled out by overlapping affective symptoms.



Youth internalizing disorders, Cognitive processing, Cognitive errors, Social information processing, Interpretation biases, Anxiety, Depression