It’s all about control: Memory bias in anxiety is restricted to threat cues that signal controllable danger

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Abstract

Although cognitive models of emotion propose that elevated trait anxiety may be associated with a memory bias for threatening information, evidence for such an anxiety-linked memory bias has been highly inconsistent. Given the crucial role of anxiety in preparing individuals to deal with impending danger, we hypothesized that an anxiety-linked memory bias may be restricted to cues that signal danger which can be controlled. High and low trait anxious participants performed a memory task in which three sets of neutral words were presented. These words acted as either controllable threat cues (as they signalled a loud noise burst that could be avoided through a secondary task), uncontrollable threat cues (signalled an unavoidable noise burst), or non-threat cues (did not signal a noise bursts). As hypothesised, high anxious participants showed better recognition of controllable threat cues as compared to non-threat cues, whereas no memory bias for uncontrollable threat cues was observed. No memory bias for either type of threat cue was observed in low anxious participants. Future research directions into the relationship between anxiety-linked memory bias and danger controllability are discussed.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)190-204
JournalJournal of Experimental Psychopathology
Volume7
Issue number2
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2016

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