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Cognitive Bias in Action: Evidence for a Reciprocal Relation Between Confirmation Bias and Fear in Children

NCJ Number
Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry Volume: 45 Issue: 1 Dated: March 2014 Pages: 26-32
Danielle Remmerswaal; Jorg Huijding; Samantha Bouwmeester; Marlies Brouwer; Peter Muris
Date Published
March 2014
7 pages
Given that cognitive distortions (misunderstandings or false assumptions about what is real or true) often underlie problem behaviors, this study tested the hypothesis that biases in information processing and fear are reciprocally related.
The study found that school children (8-13 years old) who were initially given varying information (threatening, ambiguous, or positive) about an animal previously unknown to them (an Australian marsupial) were drawn to additional information about the animal that confirmed the initial information they received. Children who received threatening information about the animal reacted with fear and subsequently were drawn to information that confirmed (confirmation bias) and even intensified their fear. The study thus demonstrates that high levels of fear are associated with a confirmation bias, which has been defined as "the inclination to selectively search for information that confirms danger, while ignoring information that disconfirms threat" (Harvey et al., 2004). Further research may draw implications of these findings for the prevention of childhood fear and anxiety that can underlie problem behaviors. A total of 171 school children were first provided with threatening, ambiguous, or positive information about an unknown animal. Then they completed a computerized information search task, during which they could collect additional (negative, positive, or neutral) information about the animal. Because fear levels were repeatedly assessed during the task, it was possible to examine the reciprocal relationship between confirmation bias and fear. 4 tables and 41 references