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Prior work suggests that variations in self-imagery can influence the emotional interpretations people make about social situations. The current experiment investigated the converse possibility: that inducing an inferential bias can change the content of self-related images. The effects of repeated practice in accessing either negative or positive social outcomes was tested by having participants report on self-images generated during subsequent experience with ambiguous social situations. Participants and independent judges rated the content of participants' self-images as being more negative after prior practice in accessing negative rather than positive social outcomes. Furthermore, participants who practiced accessing negative outcomes rated their anticipated anxiety in an imagined stressful social situation as being greater, and their expected social performance as poorer than participants in the positive outcome group. Groups did not differ in state anxiety levels when making their ratings, so it is unlikely that any observed differences between groups can be attributed to mood effects. We suggest that this finding is consistent with the hypothesis that inferential biases and content of self-images can interact with each other and may together serve to maintain social anxiety.

Original publication




Journal article


Behav Res Ther

Publication Date





2173 - 2181


Adolescent, Adult, Analysis of Variance, Anxiety, Female, Humans, Imagination, Interpersonal Relations, Male, Phobic Disorders, Psychometrics, Self Concept, Social Perception, Stress, Psychological