Anxiety disorders are extremely common in childhood and have detrimental effects on various domains of functioning. Anxiety is also highly concordant between children and their mothers, with studies suggesting that the intergenerational transmission of an interpretation bias for threatening information may explain this relationship. The primary objectives of this study are to: 1) determine the feasibility of adapting intrapersonal interpretation bias modification programs into experimental paradigms that are interpersonal in nature and 2) determine if modifying the child-referent threat interpretations of anxious mothers can alter the transmission of an interpretation bias for threatening information to their children. Results will contribute to an emerging body of research exploring the ameliorating effects of experimental paradigms that target information processing biases in anxious youth. Findings may have implications for improving the current prevention and treatment options available for anxious children.
The specific aims of the study are to: 1) investigate whether interpretation modification training using child-referent information can alter the transmission of an anxious information processing style from clinically anxious mothers to their children in the context of a specific anxiety- provoking task and 2) examine the effect that specific interpretation modification has on general interpretation biases in anxious mothers and their children. To address these aims, an experimental study will randomly assign clinically anxious mothers to receive either a training paradigm that teaches them to interpret child- referent ambiguous situations in a positive, benign manner or a control condition that does not train interpretation of such situations in either a positive or negative direction. Children will then be asked to participate in an anxiety-provoking speech task. They will be given time to discuss how they will approach the task with their mother and mothers'behavior during this interaction will be coded by objective observers. Following the discussion, children and mothers will be asked how threatening they perceive the task to be. Finally, children's anxiety, physiological activation, and performance during the task will be assessed. Research shows that anxious mothers interact with their children in ways that "train" them toward seeing threat in their environment. It is therefore hypothesized that the positive interpretation training, compared to the control condition, will result in less of this type of anxious maternal behavior, decreased perception of threat (i.e., anxious cognitions) in mothers and children, as well as less anxious child behavior, less physiological arousal, and better performance on the speech task. Lastly, it is predicted that this procedure will decrease both mother and child general interpretation biases.

Public Health Relevance

The high rates of anxiety disorders among children and adolescents make it a public health issue;however, the gold standard treatment for such disorders is currently only effective for about 60-70% of these youth. We know that anxiety disorders run in families and may be passed on by parents who inadvertently "train" their children to see threat in their surroundings.
This research aims to "re-train" anxious mothers to see less threat in their children's environment and therefore has the potential to help prevent the onset of anxiety disorders in at-risk youth.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)
Exploratory/Developmental Grants (R21)
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Psychosocial Development, Risk and Prevention Study Section (PDRP)
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Avenevoli, Shelli A
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Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University
Schools of Arts and Sciences
United States
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