Training teens to look at social situations positively, help them to get away with negativity and handle anxiety effectively in adult life, finds research.
The researchers from Oxford University found that tasks designed to prompt either positive or negative interpretations of unclear situations can shift how healthy teenagers think about such events.
AdvertisementThe approach is called "cognitive bias modification of interpretations" or CBM-I.
"It's thought that some people may tend to draw negative interpretations of ambiguous situations," Dr Jennifer Lau who led the work at the Department of Experimental Psychology at Oxford University, explained.
"For example, I might wave at someone I recently met on the other side of the street. If they don't wave back, I might think they didn't remember me - or alternatively, I might think they're snubbing me.
"People with anxiety are more likely to assume the latter interpretation. These negative thoughts are believed to drive and maintain their feelings of low mood and anxiety.
"If you can change that negative style of thinking, perhaps you can change mood in anxious teenagers," she said.
Lau and colleagues set out to assess whether simple training tasks carried out at a computer screen can change the reactions teenagers have to imagined social situations, leading them to take either more positive interpretations of the situations or more negative.
Thirty-six healthy teenagers from schools in Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire took part in the study, and were randomly allocated to receive training designed to boost positive readings of scenarios or negative readings.
The researchers found that the training task was able to induce different interpretation biases in the teenagers.
Those who received positive training tended to endorse positive readings of the ambiguous scenarios, while those who received the negative training were more likely to view the scenarios more negatively.
It suggests that the approach is able to shift teenager's interpretations of situations, at least in this laboratory setting.
"Although these results are early, and among a limited number of healthy teenagers, we hope this approach to encourage positive interpretations of events will prove to be a powerful tool," Lau said.
"If we are able to intervene early and effectively in teenagers with anxiety, we may be able to prevent later adult problems.
"The next steps are to give people with high levels of anxiety these training tasks to see if it helps change their mood over significant periods of time," she added.
The findings have been published in the Springer journal Child Psychiatry and Human Development.