The Word Sentence Association Paradigm (WSAP)



The Word Sentence Association Paradigm (WSAP) is a measure of interpretation bias in emotional disorders. Interpretation Bias (IB) refers to a tendency to interpret ambiguous situations in a negative or threatening way. IB has been implicated in the development and maintenance of a variety of emotional disorders.
Original WSAP trial procedure & citation:
Beard & Amir (2009). Interpretation in Social Anxiety: When meaning precedes ambiguity. Cognitive Therapy and Research, 33, 406-415.
  1. Fixation cross appears on the screen for 500ms to ready the participant for the trial
  2. A prime word (e.g. “embarrassing” or “funny”) appears for 500ms
  3. A sentence describing an ambiguous situation (e.g. “People laugh after something you said”) appears and remains until the participant presses the space bar, acknowledging they have finished reading.  *More recent versions of the task do not require the space bar press; rather, participants immediately indicate their relatedness judgment (see #4)
  4. Participant selects “yes” or “no” indicating whether or not they think the word is related to the sentence
The WSAP yields indicators of relatively “on-line” and “off-line” interpretations. “Online” interpretations are made immediately at the moment an individual encounters ambiguity, whereas “off-line” interpretations are made after a period of reflection. In the WSAP, researchers have used both reaction time to make relatedness decisions (online) and the actual relatedness decisions (offline) as indicators of interpretation bias.
A systematic review (Gonsalves, Whittles, Weisberg, & Beard, 2019) of the WSAP found that it has excellent psychometric properties across a range of populations, including good internal consistency and validity. WSAP variables effectively distinguish interpretive styles between clinical groups and healthy control groups. Finally, researchers have modified the WSAP to induce a benign interpretive style (i.e., Cognitive Bias Modification) by adding corrective feedback. Specifically, participants are “correct” when they reject a negative interpretation or endorse a benign interpretation. 

Researchers interested in using the WSAP should contact Dr. Courtney Beard for stimuli and should cite the original 2009 paper as well as a recent review (see below).

 Gonsalves, M., Whittles, R. L., Weisberg, R. B., & Beard, C. (2019). A systematic review of the word sentence association paradigm (WSAP). Journal of behavior therapy and experimental psychiatry.

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