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01-12-2012 | Original Article | Uitgave 6/2012

Cognitive Therapy and Research 6/2012

Childhood Exposure to Parental Threatening Behaviors and Anxiety Symptoms in a Community Sample of Young Adults: The Mediating Role of Cognitive Biases

Cognitive Therapy and Research > Uitgave 6/2012
Andres G. Viana, Chad Ebesutani, John Young, Matthew T. Tull, Kim L. Gratz


Childhood exposure to parental threatening behaviors has been associated with a number of negative outcomes, including anxiety symptoms. However, research is lacking regarding the mechanisms that may explain these associations. One such mechanism may be cognitive biases, or more specifically, the degree to which individuals interpret neutral or ambiguous events as threatening (i.e., interpretive biases) and make negative judgments about their ability to cope with internal and external events (i.e., judgment biases). The purpose of this study was to examine the direct links between childhood exposure to parental threatening behaviors and anxiety symptoms in young adulthood, as well as the mediating role of cognitive biases in this association. Multiple mediator analyses in both normal (n = 643; mean age = 18.77 years, SD = 1.06; age range = 18–24; 69% women) and anxious groups (n = 152; mean age = 18.64 years, SD = 0.97; age range = 18–23; 80% women) revealed that childhood exposure to parental threatening behaviors significantly predicted current anxiety disorder symptoms. In both groups, this association was fully mediated by participants’ judgment biases. The mediated effect was significant after controlling for negative affectivity. Overall, the findings of this study suggest that childhood exposure to parental threatening behaviors may set the stage for the development of judgment biases, which, in turn, may increase the risk for anxiety symptoms. These findings highlight the potential utility of targeting judgment biases in interventions for anxiety-related problems.

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