An information processing model of anxiety: Automatic and strategic processes. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 35, 49-58

Department of Psychology, University of New Brunswick, Bag Service No. 45444, Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada E3B 6E4
Behaviour Research and Therapy (Impact Factor: 3.85). 02/1997; 35(1):49-58. DOI: 10.1016/S0005-7967(96)00069-1


A three-stage schema-based information processing model of anxiety is described that involves: (a) the initial registration of a threat stimulus; (b) the activation of a primal threat mode; and (c) the secondary activation of more elaborative and reflective modes of thinking. The defining elements of automatic and strategic processing are discussed with the cognitive bias in anxiety reconceptualized in terms of a mixture of automatic and strategic processing characteristics depending on which stage of the information processing model is under consideration. The goal in the treatment of anxiety is to deactivate the more automatic primal threat mode and to strengthen more constructive reflective modes of thinking. Arguments are presented for the inclusion of verbal mediation as a necessary but not sufficient component in the cognitive and behavioral treatment of anxiety.

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    • "According to cognitive theories, the development and maintenance of emotional disorders such as depression or anxiety can be partly attributed to selective processing of emotionally relevant information, also referred to as cognitive biases (e.g., Beck and Clark 1997; Mathews and MacLeod 2005; Rapee and Heimberg 1997). Individuals suffering from emotional disorders and those with a higher vulnerability (MacLeod and Mathews 2012) selectively attend to negative or potentially threatening information, they remember it better, and they interpret ambiguous stimuli in a more negative or dysfunctional manner than healthy individuals do (see Hertel and Mathews 2011; Mathews and MacLeod 2005). "
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    ABSTRACT: Emotional disorders are characterized by cognitive biases towards negative stimuli, and a lack of biases towards positive ones. Therefore, we developed a cognitive bias modification training, modifying approach-avoidance tendencies to diverse emotional pictures. In Study 1, a negative training (pull negative, push positive pictures) was compared to a positive training (vice versa) in 141 students. The pre-existing positivity bias remained after positive training, but reversed into a negativity bias after negative training. This effect transferred to an attentional bias. The training affected neither mood nor emotional vulnerability to stress. In Study 2, we investigated the effects of the positive training in 102 dysphoric and non-dysphoric students, all in a sad mood state. Compared to placebo training, the positive training strengthened a positivity bias, and it reduced emotional vulnerability in dysphoric students. This suggests potential therapeutic value of the training, but further studies are needed.
    Cognitive Therapy and Research 09/2015; DOI:10.1007/s10608-015-9716-2 · 1.70 Impact Factor
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    • "The finding that, compared to non-anxious adolescents, adolescents with anxiety disorders had significantly higher levels of threat interpretation and negative emotion suggests that the adult cognitive model of anxiety (Beck & Clark, 1997) may be equally applicable to adolescents. However, the lack of significant differences between anxious and non-anxious children fails to support the validity of the model for children under the age of ten years and inevitably leads to the question of whether cognitive strategies are required in interventions for anxiety disorders in middle childhood. "
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    ABSTRACT: Background: Theory and treatment of anxiety disorders in young people are commonly based on the premise that interpretation biases found in anxious adults are also found in children and adolescents. Although there is some evidence that this may be the case, studies have not typically taken age into account, which is surprising given the normative changes in cognition that occur throughout childhood. The aim of the current study was to identify whether associations between anxiety disorder status and interpretation biases differed in children and adolescents. Methods: The responses of children (7-10 years) and adolescents (13-16 years) with and without anxiety disorders (n=120) were compared on an ambiguous scenarios task. Results: Children and adolescents with an anxiety disorder showed significantly higher levels of threat interpretation and avoidant strategies than non-anxious children and adolescents. However, age significantly moderated the effect of anxiety disorder status on interpretation of ambiguity, in that adolescents with anxiety disorders showed significantly higher levels of threat interpretation and associated negative emotion than non-anxious adolescents, but a similar relationship was not observed among children. Conclusions: The findings suggest that theoretical accounts of interpretation biases in anxiety disorders in children and adolescents should distinguish between different developmental periods. For both ages, treatment that targets behavioral avoidance appears warranted. However, while adolescents are likely to benefit from treatment that addresses interpretation biases, there may be limited benefit for children under the age of ten.
    Journal of Affective Disorders 09/2015; 188. DOI:10.1016/j.jad.2015.08.022 · 3.38 Impact Factor
    • "According to the intolerance of uncertainty model of GAD ( Dugas et al . , 1998 ) , intolerance of uncertainty ( IU ) and related threatening interpretations play a prominent role in the etiology and maintenance of anxiety disorders ( Beck & Clark , 1997 ) . Intol - erance of ambiguity ( IA ) may be relevant for such biases as well and help to explain the lack of differences between anxious and healthy groups in previous research , via the combined effects of uncertainty and ambiguity . "
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    ABSTRACT: Intolerance of uncertainty (IU) has been linked to Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), but studies experimentally manipulating uncertainty have mostly failed to find differences between GAD patients and controls, possible due to a lack of distinction between uncertainty and ambiguity. This study therefore investigated reactivity to ambiguity in addition to uncertainty in high worriers (HW) and low worriers (LW). We hypothesized an interpretation bias between the groups during ambiguity tasks, while uncertainty would facilitate threat processing of subsequent aversive stimuli. HW (N = 23) and LW (N = 23) completed a paradigm comprising the anticipation and perception of pictures with dangerous, safe, or ambiguous content. Anticipatory cues were certain (always correct information about the following picture) or uncertain (no information). Subjective ratings, reaction times and skin conductance responses (SCRs) were recorded. HW rated particularly ambiguous pictures as more aversive and showed longer reaction times to all picture conditions compared to LW. SCRs were also larger in HW compared to LW, particularly during uncertain but also safe anticipation. No group differences were observed during perception of stimuli. All participants were female. HW was used as subclinical phenotype of GAD. Intolerance of ambiguity seems to be related to individual differences in worry and possibly to the development of GAD. Threat-related interpretations differentiating HW and LW occurred particularly for ambiguous pictures but were not accompanied by increased autonomic arousal during the picture viewing. This disparity between subjective rating and arousal may be the result of worrying in response to intolerance of uncertainty, restraining physiological responses. Copyright © 2015. Published by Elsevier Ltd.
    Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry 06/2015; 50:97-105. DOI:10.1016/j.jbtep.2015.06.001 · 2.23 Impact Factor
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