Why Worry? The Cognitive Function of Anxiety

Department of Psychology, Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, LA 70803-5501.
Behaviour Research and Therapy (Impact Factor: 3.85). 02/1990; 28(6):455-68. DOI: 10.1016/0005-7967(90)90132-3
Source: PubMed


The phenomenon of worry is considered to arise from cognitive processes involved in anxiety, that serve to maintain high levels of vigilance for personal danger. Rather than rely on self-report alone, the research described here draws on information processing methodology, to investigate this hypothesized cognitive function. Evidence is summarized to show that anxious subjects selectively attend to threatening information, and interpret ambiguous events in a relatively threatening way. However, the evidence on memory suggests that although such information may be easily activated, it is not necessarily more accessible. The allocation of attentional priority to threatening information is seen as a characteristic of anxious (rather than depressed) mood, while the ease with which this processing mode is adopted may underlie trait anxiety and vulnerability to anxiety disorders.

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    • "More important, these attentional biases are especially pronounced among populations for whom survival and reproduction are more salient, lending support to an evolutionary interpretation. For example, threat and danger are more salient for socially anxious people (Mathews, 1990). In one experiment, for example, socially anxious participants responded to stimuli in spatial locations previously occupied by threatening faces faster than less socially anxious participants (Mogg & Bradley, 2002). "
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    ABSTRACT: It is commonly assumed that sex and violence sell. However, we predicted that sex and violence would have the opposite effect. We based our predictions on the evolution and emotional arousal theoretical framework, which states that people are evolutionarily predisposed to attend to emotionally arousing cues such as sex and violence. Thus, sexual and violent cues demand more cognitive resources than nonsexual and nonviolent cues. Using this framework, we meta-analyzed the effects of sexual media, violent media, sexual ads, and violent ads on the advertising outcomes of brand memory, brand attitudes, and buying intentions. The meta-analysis included 53 experiments involving 8,489 participants. Analyses found that brands advertised in violent media content were remembered less often, evaluated less favorably, and less likely to be purchased than brands advertised in nonviolent, nonsexual media. Brands advertised using sexual ads were evaluated less favorably than brands advertised using nonviolent, nonsexual ads. There were no significant effects of sexual media on memory or buying intentions. There were no significant effects of sexual or violent ads on memory or buying intentions. As intensity of sexual ad content increased, memory, attitudes, and buying intentions decreased. When media content and ad content were congruent (e.g., violent ad in a violent program), memory improved and buying intentions increased. Violence and sex never helped and often hurt ad effectiveness. These results support the evolution and emotional arousal framework. Thus, advertisers should consider the effects of media content, ad content, content intensity, and congruity to design and place more effective ads. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2015 APA, all rights reserved).
    Psychological Bulletin 07/2015; 141(5). DOI:10.1037/bul0000018 · 14.76 Impact Factor
    • "A very different situation arises if the target represents a potential threat (e.g., an angry face), given that the failure to detect a threat is a serious risk to an individual's safety. From an evolutionary perspective, individuals must rapidly identify the source of a threat and act effectively to avoid potential danger (Mathews, 1990). Several lines of evidence suggest that threatening events generate defensive reactions, which mobilize the defensive motivational system of the organism (Bradley, 2000; Cuthbert, Schupp, Bradley, Birbaumer, & Lang, 2000; Lang, Bradley, & Cuthbert, 1997; Weinberg, Riesel, & Hajcak, 2012). "
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    ABSTRACT: Cognitive control enables individuals to rapidly adapt to changing task demands. To investigate error-driven adjustments in cognitive control, we considered performance changes in posterror trials, when participants performed a visual search task requiring detection of angry, happy, or neutral facial expressions in crowds of faces. We hypothesized that the failure to detect a potential threat (angry face) would prompt a different posterror adjustment than the failure to detect a nonthreatening target (happy or neutral face). Indeed, in 3 sets of experiments, we found evidence of posterror speeding, in the first case, and of posterror slowing, in the second case. Previous results indicate that a threatening stimulus can improve the efficiency of visual search. The results of the present study show that a similar effect can also be observed when participants fail to detect a threat. The impact of threat-detection failure on cognitive control, as revealed by the present study, suggests that posterror adjustments should be understood as the product of domain-specific mechanisms that are strongly influenced by affective information, rather than as the effect of a general-purpose error-monitoring system. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2015 APA, all rights reserved).
    Journal of Experimental Psychology Human Perception & Performance 02/2015; 41(2). DOI:10.1037/a0038753 · 3.36 Impact Factor
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    • "Cognitive behavioral group therapy (CBGT) of anxiety disorder is based on the theory that the disorder stems from constant perceptions of the world as a dangerous place, resulting in a process of maladaptive and habitual interactions among cognitive, behavioral, and physiological response systems. Maladaptive cognitive responses include a pre-attentive bias to threat cues (Mathews, 1990), negatively valence images and worrisome thinking and cognitive avoidance of some aspects of anxious experience (Borkovec & Inz, 1990). Maladaptive behavioral responses include subtle behavioral avoidance (Butler, Fennel, Robson, &Gelder, 1991) and slowed decision-making (Metzger, Miller, Cohen, Sofka, &Borkovec, 1990). "

    01/2015; 4(3):101. DOI:10.11648/j.pbs.20150403.13
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