Threat interpretation bias in children with obsessive-compulsive disorder: Examining maternal influences

Lara J. Farrell*, Donna Hourigan, Allison M. Waters, Mathew R. Hrrington

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Citations (Scopus)


Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) in children is a chronic and debilitating disorder. Cognitive theories propose that threat biases may play a role in the development and maintenance of various anxiety disorders, including OCD. Although there is a small body of research examining cognitive theories of OCD in samples of children and youth (e.g., Reynolds & Reeves, 2008), to date, there are no studies that have examined overestimation of threat in children in relation to ambiguous scenarios that may imbue mildly aversive, neutral, and positive interpretations. Children with primary OCD and their mothers (n = 22 dyads) and nonclinical children and their mothers (n = 26 dyads) participated in this study. Children with OCD were less accurate in identifying expected feelings across scenarios and perceived all types of situations as being more difficult compared with nonclinical children; however, after controlling for self-reported anxiety symptoms, there were no group differences. Child groups did not differ on other indices of interpretation bias. Mothers of children with OCD, compared with mothers of nonclinical children, also interpreted all types of situations as more threatening and difficult and were less accurate in identifying appropriate emotions in ambiguous situations that may imbue mildly positive connotations. Results are discussed in terms of the broader literature on interpretation bias in anxious children and youth and implications for future research and practice.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)230-252
Number of pages23
JournalJournal of Cognitive Psychotherapy
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • Ambiguous situations
  • Children
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • Threat interpretation bias


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