Studies in Cognitive Processing During Worry

Document Type



worry, memory, attention, vigilance, generalized anxiety


Psychology | Social and Behavioral Sciences


Three experiments were conducted to examine the cognitive processing biases during worry or positive imagery. Participants were classified as worriers or non-worriers on the basis of normative data for the Penn State Worry Questionnaire (PSWQ). Experiment 1 was a directed forgetting task using threat and non-threat words. Experiment 2 was a Stroop task, and Experiment 3 was a dot-probe task, also using threat and non-threat words as targets. Across all three experiments, worriers exhibited lower cognitive bias during positive imagery compared to during worry, whereas non-worriers did not show a difference in memory or response latency for all three experiments. A fourth experiment was conducted to determine whether there was a differential rate of catastrophic thinking or positive imagery in association with worry level. It was found that worriers catastrophized more rapidly when instructed, and more slowly engaged in positive imagery. Collectively, these results suggest that positive imagery reduces cognitive bias among worriers, and additional research is warranted to determine how this may contribute to treatment of worry-based conditions.

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Peer Reviewed



APA Citation: McKay, D. (2005). Studies in cognitive processing during worry. Cognitive Therapy and Research, 29(3), 359-376.