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08-04-2020 | Original Article | Uitgave 4/2020 Open Access

Cognitive Therapy and Research 4/2020

Interpretation Bias in Online and Offline Social Environments and Associations with Social Anxiety, Peer Victimization, and Avoidance Behavior

Cognitive Therapy and Research > Uitgave 4/2020
Anne C. Miers, Sindy R. Sumter, David M. Clark, Eleanor Leigh
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The online version of this article (https://​doi.​org/​10.​1007/​s10608-020-10097-1) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.

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In face-to-face (offline) social situations a tendency, or bias, to negatively interpret ambiguous situations is consistently related to social anxiety. Although social interactions increasingly occur over the Internet (online), our understanding of cognitive processes in online social situations and how they relate to social anxiety, social experiences, and behavior, is limited.


In a sample of 324 young people (18–25 years), the current study addressed this gap in two ways: by simultaneously investigating online and offline interpretation bias in relation to social anxiety; and examining the extent to which online interpretation bias predicts peer victimization and avoidance.


In line with hypotheses, online and offline interpretation bias each correlated positively with social anxiety; the offline interpretation bias-social anxiety association was stronger. Regression analyses revealed unique associations between online interpretation bias and online peer victimization and avoidance, after controlling for social anxiety and offline interpretation bias.


Findings suggest that cognitive behavioral interventions for social anxiety could be optimized through eliciting and testing negative social beliefs related to online social settings.


The current study’s results indicate the importance of studying online interpretation bias to further understand social anxiety in online social environments.

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