Anxiety and Anxiety
The University of Western Australia, Perth, WA, Australia
The study of cognitive functioning in anxious individuals has a long history within Experimental psychology. However, until 15 or so years ago, most of this research focused principally upon delineating and explaining the patterns of cognitive deficits commonly displayed by clinically anxious patients, and by normal individuals reporting high levels of state or trait anxiety. This early research revealed performance decrements in anxious subjects on a broad range of cognitive tasks. It now has been established, for example, that anxious individuals exhibit deficient inductive reasoning (Reed, 1977), slowed decision latencies (Volans, 1976), shallow depth of processing (Fransson, 1977) and reduced memory span (Idzihowski & Baddeley, 1987). They also demonstrate impaired attentional control (Broadbent, Broadbent & Jones, 1986), displaying particular problems in the execution of attentional inhibition (Fox, 1994).
Perhaps the most influential account of these performance deficits is that introduced by M. W. Eysenck (e.g. Eysenck, 1982,1992; Eysenck & Calvo, 1992), which implicates a functional restriction in working memory capacity. Specifically, Eysenck draws attention to the characteristic cognitive preoccupations with emotionally negative concerns commonly displayed by highly anxious individuals. Collectively, such preoccupations represent the “worry” symptoms of anxiety, as distinct from the “somatic” symptoms, which principally reflect elevated sympathetic arousal (cf. Deffenbacher, 1980). According to Eysenck, worrying represents a resource-consuming task-irrelevant cognitive process, maintained by the allocation of working memory capacity, and it is this depletion of working memory that underpins anxiety-related cognitive deficits.
Consistent with Eysenck's hypothesis, there is indeed evidence that anxietyrelated performance deficits may be restricted to those cognitive tasks which