Interpretation bias, behavioral inhibition (BI), and anxiety were assessed when children were aged between 3 years 2 months and 4 years 5 months.
Anxiety was subsequently assessed 12 months, 2 years, and 5 years later. A significant difference in interpretation bias was found between participants who met criteria for an anxiety diagnosis at baseline, with clinically anxious participants more likely to complete the ambiguous story-stems in a threat-related way.
Threat interpretations significantly predicted anxiety symptoms at 12-month follow-up, after controlling for baseline symptoms, but did not predict anxiety symptoms or diagnoses at either 2-year or 5-year follow-up. There was little evidence for a relationship between BI and interpretation bias. Overall, the pattern of results was not consistent with the hypothesis that interpretation bias plays a role in the development of anxiety. Instead, some evidence for a role in the maintenance of anxiety over relatively short periods of time was found.
The use of a story-stem methodology to assess interpretation bias in young children is discussed along with the theoretical and clinical implications of the findings.