The ambiguous sentence task

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Interpretation biases in anxiety were investigated by Eysenck, Mogg, May, Richards, and Mathews (1991). They presented people with GAD, recovered anxious people, and control participants with a series of sentences. Some of the sentences were ambiguous, with both threatening and non-threatening interpretations (e.g., "The two men watched as the chest was opened."). After presentation of the sentences, the participants were given an unexpected recognition memory test, in which they had to decide whether or not each sentence corresponded in meaning to one of the sentences presented previously. The memory test items were unambiguous, reworded versions of the original sentences which captured the meaning of either the threatening or the non-threatening interpretation. The results showed that the people with GAD recognised more of the threatening interpretations and fewer of the neutral interpretations than the other two groups. There were no significant differences in the memory performance of the recovered anxious group and the normal controls. In a short additional study, Eysenck et al. applied signal detection analyses to the recognition of ambiguous, threatening, and neutral sentences, and concluded that people with GAD did not differ from controls in terms of response bias. In an online text-reading version of this task, MacLeod and Cohen (1993) demonstrated similar threat interpretations of ambiguous text in high-anxious individuals.

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