In this study we assessed the cognitive mechanisms underlying the affective consequences of modifying emotional processing biases. During ‘active’ training participants selected either threatening or non-threatening meanings of emotionally ambiguous words, in contrast to ‘passive’ conditions in which participants read unambiguous words with equivalent valenced meanings. Both methods enhanced access to training-congruent primed emotional meanings, as assessed in a lexical decision task, although neither method displayed evidence of an induced interpretive bias as it is usually understood. However, consistent with previous research, the methods differed in their emotional consequences: Active training had greater effects on anxiety while viewing an accident video than did passive exposure. We interpret these results to suggest that both forms of training enhance priming of a valenced category, but only active conditions induce an implicit production rule to generate and/or select emotional meanings, and that it is this latter process that is critical to the modification of emotionality. Copyright © 2010 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.