Cognitive bias in the misinterpretation of ambiguous interoceptive stimuli has been demonstrated in panic disorder. This study investigated whether this cognitive bias also occurs in people with nonclinical panic who are at risk of developing panic disorder. The responses of 25 people with nonclinical panic were compared to those of 20 people with panic disorder and 69 nonpanic controls on a measure of interpretive bias, the Brief Body Sensations Interpretation Questionnaire. There was evidence for interpretive cognitive bias for ambiguous interoceptive stimuli among the nonclinical panickers which did not differ from that of the people with panic disorder, but which differed from the nonpanic controls. High anxiety sensitivity predicted interpretive bias toward both interoceptive and external stimuli. Results therefore suggest that interpretive cognitive bias for ambiguous interoceptive stimuli may be a risk factor for the development of panic disorder.
The catastrophic misinterpretation model [Behav. Res. Ther. 24 (1986) 461-470] proposes that panic attacks result from misinterpretation of interoceptive stimuli as precursors to physical or psychological emergency. Inconclusive evidence for the model may be partly explained by limitations of the questionnaires developed to measure catastrophic misinterpretation. For example, the Body Sensations Interpretation Questionnaire (BSIQ) is unable to clarify whether anxiety-related interpretations of ambiguous interoceptive stimuli represent catastrophic misinterpretations or responses masking feared outcomes (e.g., heart failure). Additionally, it lacks items relating to several DSM-IV criteria for panic, thereby limiting content validity. Reliability is also potentially compromised due to experimenter-coding of participant-generated responses. A modified form of the BSIQ was developed to address these limitations and evaluated with non-anxious controls (n=34) and people with panic disorder (n=38). The revised questionnaire demonstrated good to excellent internal consistency, inter-rater reliability, and construct validity and is a useful development of the BSIQ.