Interpretation bias in social anxiety: A systematic review and meta-analysis

Junwen Chen, Michelle Short, Eva Kemps

    Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

    84 Citations (Scopus)


    Background: Interpretation bias, which involves interpreting ambiguous social events negatively and catastrophising even mildly negative social events, has been suggested as a key maintenance factor of Social Anxiety Disorder. Although some individual studies and narrative reviews have demonstrated a role for negative interpretation bias in social anxiety (disorder), findings have been mixed. Given the lack of a quantitative synthesis of the evidence, the current systematic review and meta-analysis examined the strength of the relationship between interpretation bias and social anxiety. It also investigated potential moderators of this relationship (i.e., types of measures and stimuli, samples, and study designs). Methods: Five databases (PsycINFO, PubMed, Medline, Scopus, and CINAHL) were searched. Of 46 studies identified, 44 were suitable for meta-analysis (N = 3859). Results: There was a large effect for the relationship between social anxiety and interpretation bias (g = 0.83). Types of measures (subjective versus objective) and stimuli (verbal versus visual) were identified as significant moderators, with subjective measures and verbal stimuli particularly adept at capturing interpretation bias in socially anxious individuals. Limitations: The effect sizes displayed significant heterogeneity between studies, which likely reflects some publication bias, and thus, the overall effect size may be inflated. Conclusion: Findings may help to refine clinical models and interventions for Social Anxiety Disorder, which in turn may maximise evidence-based interventions that target negative interpretation bias in this disorder.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)1119-1130
    Number of pages12
    JournalJournal of Affective Disorders
    Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2020


    • Interpretation bias
    • Sample population
    • Social anxiety disorder
    • Stimulus materials
    • Study design
    • Subjective versus objective measures


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