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Research suggests that individuals high in trait anger have a cognitive bias for attributing hostile intentions to ambiguous situations. However, no studies have tested whether this interpretation bias can be altered to influence anger reactivity to an interpersonal insult. The current study tested this with a single-session cognitive bias modification program. One hundred thirty-five undergraduate students were randomized to receive positive training, negative training, or a neutral condition. Anger reactivity to insult was then assessed with observational measures, self-report, and blood pressure. Positive training led to increases in positive interpretation bias relative to the negative training group and there was a trend for increase in positive interpretation bias relative to the neutral group. Additionally, negative training led to increases in negative interpretation bias relative to the other two groups. Participants in the positive training condition were rated by observers as less irritated than those in the negative condition and more amused than the other two conditions. During the insult, participants in the positive condition reported less anger than those in the neutral condition. However, reported anger for the negative training condition was not consistently different than the other two groups. Assessments of blood pressure during insult did not demonstrate any meaningful differences between conditions. Though mediation of effects via modification of bias was not demonstrated for the whole sample, amongst the positive training condition, interpretation bias was correlated with self-reported levels of anger and observed irritation, which provides evidence that positive training reduced anger reactivity by its influence on interpretation biases. These findings suggest that positive interpretation training may be a promising treatment option for reducing anger.
A Thesis submitted to the Department of Psychology in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Science.
Includes bibliographical references.
Jesse R. Cougle, Professor Directing Thesis; Norman B. Schmidt, Committee Member; Jon K. Maner, Committee Member.
Florida State University
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