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Training in positive thinking help anxious teens

Child Psychiatry and Human Development,
July 2011

Training in positive thinking help anxious teens

Training children in a positive thinking style about interactions with other people helps them overcome anxiety and prevent such problems from lingering into adulthood.

Researchers from United Kingdom found that training youth to bring a bias toward either positive or negative interpretations of unclear social situations could influence how the teens felt about those interactions and their subsequent mood. It’s been believed that some people tend to draw negative interpretations of ambiguous situations. For example, a man wave at people he recently met on the other side of the street. If those people don’t wave back, the man may think they didn't remember him - or alternatively, he may think they're snubbing him.

People with anxiety - an estimated 10-15 percent of teens - are more likely to assume the worst in such a situation. These negative thoughts are believed to drive and maintain their feelings of low mood and anxiety. If one can change that negative style of thinking, perhaps mood in anxious teenagers can be changed.

Researchers attempted to train 36 teens to boost their thinking - in either a positive or negative direction - through a computer programme. The programme aimed to mould the responses that teens had to hypothetical social situations. Those who got the positive training became more positive themselves in regard to their interpretations of the situations; the reverse was true for those who received the negative training.

Although the above results are early, and among a limited number of healthy teenagers, it is hoped that this approach to encourage positive interpretations of events will prove to be a powerful tool. 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.

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