Excessive and uncontrollable worry is a defining feature of generalised anxiety disorder (GAD) and an important transdiagnostic symptom in other anxiety disorders. The symposium will examine mechanisms of worry perseveration in both children and adults and discuss the role of experimental psychopathology in improving our understanding of the development and maintenance of disorders such as GAD. In the first talk, Helen Dodd will discuss experimental research on intolerance of uncertainty and its relationship to worry in children aged 8-11. She has examined whether intolerance of uncertainty moderates emotional and behavioural reactions to uncertainty on an adapted Beads Task. The following three talks discuss research with participants aged 18 and over. Lies Notebaert will present data on attentional bias and productive vs. unproductive worry. She will discuss whether greater attentional bias to threat cues signalling more controllable rather than less controllable dangers, is associated with a greater tendency to worry about a potentially negative future event when the outcome of this event is controllable, relative to when it is no longer controllable. Frances Meeten will discuss cognitive and physiological mechanisms of worry perseveration. She will present data examining the relationship between attentional control, heart rate variability, and worry. Finally, Graham Davey will discuss how experimental psychopathology research contributes to improving our understanding of what causes distress during pathological worrying, including the automaticity of cognitive processes involved in worrying, negative thought intrusions, endemic negative mood during worrying, and the role of conflicting beliefs about worrying.
Dr Helen Dodd.1*. Dr Lies Notebaert. 2*. Dr Frances Meeten.*3. Professor Graham Davey (also discussant).4*
1. School of Psychology and Clinical Language Sciences, University of Reading, United Kingdom. 2. School of Psychological Science, University of Western Australia, Australia. 3. Institute of Psychology, Psychiatry and Neuroscience, King's College London, United Kingdom. 4. School of Psychology, University of Sussex, United Kingdom
1.Development of a Behavioural Measure of Intolerance of Uncertainty in Preadolescent Children: Adaptation of the Beads Task
Authors: Helen Dodd, Nihan Osmanagaoglu, Cathy Creswell (University of Reading, UK)
Abstract: Intolerance of Uncertainty (IU) may be important for the development andmaintenance of anxiety disorders. To date, research with preadolescent children has relied entirely on questionnaire measures to assess IU. Here we aimed to develop a behavioural measure of IU that was appropriate for preadolescent children by adapting the beads task (Jacoby, Abramowitz, Buck, & Fabricant, 2014). Participants were 51 typically developing children (26 female; 7 to 11 years). We examined first whether participants could understand and complete the task. Based on the proportion of participants who completed the task, the accuracy scores across levels of uncertainty, self-reported certainty ratings and ratings of how important it was to participants to answer correctly, we concluded that the task is appropriate for children of this age. We then examined how participants responded to varying levels of uncertainty by examining decision-making time, information requested, and self-reported worry across uncertainty conditions. Finally, we evaluated whether the task captured reactions to uncertainty that are related to questionnaire measures of IU, anxiety and worry. Children reported feeling less certain, more worried, and requested more information as uncertainty increased. Task related worry was significantly associated with self-reported IU and the association between IU and task-related certainty approached significance; however, decision making time and information seeking showed no significant associations with self-reported IU. Overall, the adapted Beads Task appears suitable for preadolescent children, able to induce uncertainty and can capture at least some IU related processes.
2.Why worry? The contribution of attentional bias to individual differences in productive and unproductive worry.
Authors: Lies Notebaert and Colin MacLeod (University of Western Australia, Australia)
Abstract: While worry about events that are beyond our control is maladaptive, worrying about controllable events can be adaptive. Given the causal relationship between biased attention to threat and worry, this study aimed to examine whether greater attentional bias to threat cues signalling more controllable rather than less controllable dangers, is associated with a greater tendency to worry about a potentially negative future event when the outcome of this event is controllable, relative to when it is no longer controllable. Attentional bias to threat cues predicting highly and poorly controllable dangers was examined using an interference paradigm, and worry was elicited using a speech stressor. Results showed that greater Attentional Capture by threat cues predicting high relative to low control dangers, predicted increased worry about events the speech when control over the outcome was still possible.
3. Cognitive and physiological mechanisms of worry perseveration
Authors: Fran Meeten and Colette Hirsch (King’s College London, UK)
Abstract:Excessive and uncontrollable worry is a defining feature of generalised anxiety disorder. Worry perseveration has been linked to cognitive and physiological processes such as poor attentional control and chronically low heart rate variability (HRV). However, as one would expect, there are individual variations in cognitive and physiological presentations and one possibility is that individual variation in these processes is related to the ability to disengage from worry. This experimental study examines how individual differences in the ability to regulate cognitive and physiological processes during worry predicts performance on a behavioural worry task. Participants selected for low and high levels of trait worry completed measures of attentional control and resting state heart rate variability before and after a worry induction. The relationship between baseline and post-worry induction measures of attentional control and HRV and performance on a behavioural worry task are discussed.
4. Why is pathological worrying distressing?
Author: Graham C. L. Davey (University of Sussex, UK)
Abstract: Distress is a defining feature of most mental health problems, but there are relatively few psychopathology models that focus directly on distress and attempt to identify the specific factors that generate that distress. This paper will discuss how experimental psychopathology research contributes to improving our understanding of what causes distress during pathological worrying and makes it qualitatively different to adaptive, everyday worrying. These factors include the automaticity of cognitive processes involved in worrying, negative thought intrusions, endemic negative mood during worrying, and the role of conflicting beliefs about worrying.