University of Sussex
Nightingale,_Zoe.pdf (1.82 MB)

Cognitive rehearsal, cognitive bias and the development of fear in high trait-anxious children

Download (1.82 MB)
posted on 2023-06-07, 15:51 authored by Zoe C Nightingale
Previous research has shown that high trait-anxious children, relative to low trait-anxious children, are at an increased risk of developing fear due to threatening information (Field, 2006b; Field and Price-Evans, 2009). However, the mechanism that underlies this relationship remains unknown. Cognitive models of vulnerability to anxiety propose that biases in the processing of threat-relevant material play a part in the aetiology and maintenance of anxiety disorders (Beck and Clark, 1997; Eysenck, 1992) and as such could potentially explain the relationship between trait-anxiety and fear development in the face of ambiguous information in children. For example, high-anxious children tend to interpret ambiguous information in a more negative manner (interpretation bias) and remember ambiguous information as being more threatening than it was originally (memory bias) (see Hadwin and Field, 2010, for a review). Additionally, high-anxious children have been found to engage in negative cognitive rehearsal (Comer, Kendall, Franklin, Hudson, and Pimental, 2004). The experiments in this thesis investigated whether these cognitive biases underlie the relationship between trait anxiety and fear development in non-clinical children. In a series of three experiments, children (aged 8-11 years) were presented with some ambiguous information regarding two novel animals (the quoll and the cuscus) and before completing a cognitive rehearsal task were told that they would soon be asked to approach the animals. There were several findings: 1) High trait-anxious children were not significantly more likely than low trait-anxious children to display any of the cognitive biases tested (i.e., interpretation bias, memory bias or cognitive rehearsal). However, tentative evidence suggested that interpretation bias exacerbated the relationship between trait anxiety and fear; 2) Whether children cognitively rehearsed the ambiguous information or not had no significant impact on their fear for the animals, nor did the valence of their thoughts; 3) Children who interpreted the ambiguous information more negatively were more likely to become fearful of the animals and were also more likely to remember more negatively-biased and less positively-biased pieces of ambiguous information; 4) It was the lack of positively-biased memories not the increased number of negatively-biased memories that led children who interpreted the information more negatively to become more fearful of the animals as a result. The findings are discussed with reference to their implications for the theory and prevention of childhood fear: that positive interpretation and memory bias training may act to decrease or even help to prevent fear development in children.


File Version

  • Published version



Department affiliated with

  • Psychology Theses

Qualification level

  • doctoral

Qualification name

  • dphil


  • eng


University of Sussex

Full text available

  • Yes

Legacy Posted Date


Usage metrics

    University of Sussex (Theses)


    No categories selected