Tuesday, April 10th
Department of Psychology
An individual differences perspective on anxiety and worry: frontal engagement in attentional control and mind wandering.
Abstract. Worry, distractibility, and difficulty concentrating are symptomatic of both clinical and subclinical anxiety. Many empirical studies have reported that anxious individuals show threat-related biases in selective attention. Early cognitive models of anxiety argued that these biases result from amplification of the signal from a pre-attentive threat detection mechanism, this boosting the ability of threat distractors to compete for attention. There is evidence, however, that anxiety may also be linked to impoverished attentional control. Specifically, neuroimaging studies of selective attention indicate that anxious individuals show impoverished recruitment of the frontal brain regions implicated in attentional control and that this is observed regardless of whether attentional competition is created by threat-related stimuli or response conflict. While the role of disrupted frontal control of attention in anxiety is becoming increasingly recognized, there has been little investigation of how this relates to worry. In general, there has been little attempt to differentiate the constructs of trait anxiety and worry using neurocognitive approaches. Here, I will present data from a recent study investigating how individual differences in trait anxiety and worry influence performance, and associated engagement of frontal cortical regions, during a task of sustained attention. The need to disentangle DLPFC involvement in attentional control versus task-unrelated thought, and the implications of our findings for current models of mind-wandering will be discussed.