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Word Sentence Association Paradigm

The Word Sentence Association Paradigm (WSAP) is a task that can be used to both (1) measure and (2) modify 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 Procedure 

  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.


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.  Once example of this type of intervention is Dr. Beard's HabitWorks smartphone app.

Researchers interested in using the WSAP may use the below link to access the stimuli and should cite the original 2009 paper as well as the 2019 review.

WSAP Stimuli Excel Sheet

Original WSAP citation

           Beard & Amir (2009). Interpretation in Social Anxiety: When meaning precedes ambiguity. Cognitive Therapy and Research, 33, 406-415.

WSAP review citation

            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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