Interpretive cues and ambiguity in generalized anxiety disorder

Holly Hazlett-Stevens, T. D. Borkovec

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

39 Scopus citations


The current study investigated whether generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) individuals rely on antecedent information to interpret ambiguity and whether reliance on such preceding cues persists in the absence of potential threat. Twenty-six GAD and 23 nonanxious control college students performed a lexical decision task, using homographs (i.e. words with multiple meanings) as ambiguous primes. In half the trials, a homograph prime that possessed both threat-related, as well as neutral meanings was followed by a target word related to one of these two meanings. In addition, each ambiguous prime was immediately preceded by a series of four antecedent words that were either: (a) associated with the threatening meaning of the prime; (b) associated with the neutral meaning of the prime; or (c) unrelated to either meaning of the homograph, as well as the target. Homographs for which both meanings were neutral in valence comprised the other half of the trials. Effect size statistics suggest that GAD participants utilized the antecedent words to interpret the homograph primes with threat-related meanings, unlike their nonanxious counterparts (p<0.06). When both meanings of the homograph prime were neutral in valence, the GAD group appeared deficient in the use of preceding information to interpret the ambiguous prime.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)881-892
Number of pages12
JournalBehaviour Research and Therapy
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 2004

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Clinical Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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