Symptoms of social anxiety are common, and can cause significant impairments to social and occupational functioning. Social anxiety may present unique challenges in the period of emerging adulthood, as peer interactions become increasingly important. Interpretation bias, the tendency to ascribe threatening interpretations to ambiguous social situations, is one of the cognitive distortions commonly associated with the development and maintenance of social anxiety. The goal of this dissertation was to examine the phenomenon of interpretation bias among emerging adults in response to text
messages, a previously under-studied context of computer-mediated communication (CMC). In Study 1, a new vignette measure of interpretation bias in the context of text messaging (IB-CMC) was developed and piloted with a sample of N = 215 undergraduates aged 18-25 years. This new measure displayed good psychometric properties and evidence of construct validity. For example, negative interpretation bias in CMC was found to be associated with two previously established measures of interpretation bias in face-to-face situations, as well as with symptoms of social anxiety. The goal of Study 2 was
to examine the effects of text-based nonverbal cues to emotion (emoticons) on interpretation bias in text messaging. For this study, vignettes were modified to include positive emoticons (‘:)’). In a sample of N = 219 undergraduates, the presence of positive emoticons was found to both reduce negative interpretations and increase benign interpretations for all users, independent of levels of social anxiety. In Study 3, the effect of sender characteristics (specifically, gender of sender) was examined in a sample of N = 353 undergraduates (159 male, 194 female). Overall, participants
interpreted ambiguous text messages from female senders as more negative and less benign than messages from male senders, and this effect was particularly pronounced among male participants. Results are discussed in terms of implications for the understanding of the cognitive processes underlying social anxiety and theories of computer-mediated communication.