Individuals with high anxiety are characterized by negative interpretation bias, namely, they negatively or catastrophically interpret ambiguous events and situations. Moreover, previous studies indicated that the negative interpretation bias plays a crucial role in the onset and development of anxiety, and disrupts individuals’ social life. The interpretation bias modification is a promising intervening method, which could modify individuals’ interpretation bias and alleviate their anxiety feelings by leading them to positively interpret an ambiguous situation. However, previous studies focused more on the improvements on the modification tasks and the far-transfer effects of the interpretation bias modification, little is known about the intrinsic mechanism of this modification. Therefore, the present study aimed to explore and illustrate the mechanism of the interpretation bias modification on reducing anxiety.
Based on previous studies, the current study believed that the interpretation bias modification would reduce anxiety through influencing individuals’ interpretation bias and emotion regulation. Two series of experiments in the present study were conducted under such a hypothesis. Specifically, participants in the present study were randomly assigned to three groups, the positive training group, the neutral training group, and control group. Participants in the training groups completed 28 day’s multi-session interpretation bias modification. All participants accepted different assessments at the pre- and post-test. Study one explored the behavioral mechanism of the interpretation bias modification using some experiments and self-report questionnaires. Except for the pre- and post-test, participants were required to complete every assessment per seven days. Results revealed the time point at which each index changed to the positive side and indicated that the interpretation bias modification would influence different indices effectively. Results of the meditation analysis indicated that the modification could alter the rank of the positive interpretation and render the negative belief less believable, and finally reduced their anxiety symptoms. Study two explored the neural mechanism of the interpretation bias modification using the event-related potentials technique. At the pre-test phase of the experiment, no significant differences were found between the three groups concerning ERP results of the interpretation bias assessment and the experiment of emotion regulation. After the interpretation bias modification, the amplitude of ERP component N400 increased when the positive training group was making positive interpretations. Moreover, their LPP amplitude reduced when they were using reappraisal to regulate negative emotion. These results indicated that the interpretation bias modification could influence the mechanisms of different cognitive processes.
In summary, the interpretation bias modification could enhance individuals’ flexibility of making positive interpretations and reappraisal. Individuals who made more positive interpretations after the modification would benefit from such change. They were also motivated to think and retrieve positively. The interpretation bias modification also protected individuals from the intrusion of negative thought and its side effects. The underlying mechanism of all the cognitive processes mentioned above is of great importance for reducing anxiety. The understanding of the mechanism of the interpretation bias modification bears theoretical implications on clinical intervention, and points out the future direction for developing the specific modification paradigm.