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.

73 Reads
    • "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). "
    [Show abstract] [Hide abstract]
    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
  • Source
    • "In contrast to the active , approach - oriented nature of anger , these emotions are more commonly characterized by passivity and avoidance . Worry is a negative , repetitive , and intrusive cognitive activity , typically focused on future events ( Borkovec , 1994 ; Szabó , 2011 ) or unresolved personal or social problems ( Mathews , 1990 ) . Although worry is empirically distinct from anxiety and depression , as well as general distress ( Szabó , 2011 ) , frequent , uncontrollable worry can help to exacerbate and prolong anxiety ( Gladstone & Parker , 2003 ) . "
    [Show abstract] [Hide abstract]
    ABSTRACT: Background and objectives: This study examined concurrent and delayed emotional and cardiovascular correlates of naturally occurring experiences with subjective social evaluative threat (SSET) and tested whether individual differences in social interaction anxiety moderated those associations. Methods: Sixty-eight participants wore ambulatory blood pressure monitors for three days. Following each blood pressure reading, participants reported on SSET and negative emotions, yielding 1770 momentary measures. Results: Multilevel modeling suggested that reports of greater SSET uniquely predicted elevations in anxiety and embarrassment, with elevations in anxiety, embarrassment, and shame extending to the hour following SSET. Reports of concurrent and previous-hour SSET also predicted cardiovascular elevations. Linkages between SSET and anxiety and shame, but not cardiovascular measures, were moderated by social interaction anxiety. Those higher in social interaction anxiety showed especially strong associations between SSET and both concurrent and delayed anxiety and greater delayed shame. Conclusions: This research suggests an important role for anxiety, embarrassment, and shame as emotional consequences of naturally occurring evaluative threat, especially for those who are more socially anxious. Further, this work replicates other naturalistic studies that have documented increased blood pressure at times of SSET and extends that work by documenting cardiovascular responses into the following hour.
    Anxiety Stress & Coping 09/2014; 28(3):1-31. DOI:10.1080/10615806.2014.968563 · 1.97 Impact Factor
    • "The propensity to worry is a subcomponent of anxiety, described as specific to cognition that is characterised by concern about future events (Zebb and Beck 1998). Mathews (1990, 456) defines worry as 'the persistent awareness of possible future danger' and suggests this awareness fulfils a cognitive function. In fact, experimental studies report that this attitude is related to the processing of threat-related information (Edwards, Burt, and Lipp 2010; MacLeod and Matthews 1991). "
    [Show abstract] [Hide abstract]
    ABSTRACT: To achieve a high level of safety, managers of organisations in hazardous industries need to maintain a state of constant wariness towards the management of risks, often conceptualised as ‘chronic unease’. Despite the prevalence of this term in the literature, there is limited evidence to enable a definition or operationalisation of this concept. To develop a better understanding of chronic unease, a literature search of articles using this term was conducted. Descriptions of chronic unease from nine articles were coded resulting in the identification of five themes: pessimism, propensity to worry, vigilance, requisite imagination and flexible thinking, as the components of chronic unease. We propose a preliminary conceptualisation of chronic unease based on these attributes, which suggests that this specific type of strain may be a desirable state for managers in relation to the control of risks.
    Journal of Risk Research 09/2014; 17(8). DOI:10.1080/13669877.2013.822924 · 1.27 Impact Factor
Show more