New research suggests that training kids in a positive thinking style about interactions with other people could help them overcome anxiety and prevent such problems from lingering into adulthood.
Researchers from Oxford University in the 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 thought that some people may tend to draw negative interpretations of ambiguous situations," said study leader Jennifer Lau, of Oxford University's Department of Experimental Psychology. "For example, I might wave at someone I recently met on the other side of the street. If they don't wave back, I might think they didn't remember me - or alternatively, I might think they're snubbing me."
People with anxiety - an estimated 10-15% 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," Lau said. "If you can change that negative style of thinking, perhaps you can change mood in anxious teenagers."
Positive thinking is good for teenagers
In the study, researchers attempted to train 36 teens to boost their thinking - in either a positive or negative direction - through a computer program. The program aims to mould the responses that teens have 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 these results are early, and among a limited number of healthy teenagers, we hope this approach to encourage positive interpretations of events will prove to be a powerful tool," Lau said. "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."
The study appears in the journal Child Psychiatry and Human Development.
For more on teen depression, try the U.S. National Library of Medicine.
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