Towards understanding the impacts of anxiety on attention and visual working memory

Spalding, David M. and Nicholls, Louise A. Brown (2021) Towards understanding the impacts of anxiety on attention and visual working memory. The Cognitive Psychology Bulletin (6). pp. 34-41. ISSN 2397-2661

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Anxiety can refer to a dispositional trait characteristic, a transient emotional state, or a classification of mood disorders that can be broadly defined by a range of key aspects. Individuals with more anxious dispositions will more frequently experience apprehension and worry, leading to more frequent experiences of anxious states, particularly under stressful conditions (e.g. Eysenck et al., 2007). Anxious states can be characterized by these apprehensions, as well as the experience of somatic hyperarousal and tension (e.g. Moran, 2016; Ree et al., 2008). The estimated 12-month prevalence of anxiety disorders in the UK was 18.1% of the population in 2010 (Fineberg et al., 2013). Though, in Europe and North America, estimates of those who experience chronic anxiety below the threshold for a clinical diagnosis has been suggested to be twice that of diagnosed cases (Haller et al., 2014). Even within nonclinical groups, anxiety is associated with reduced personal, social and professional functioning (Haller et al., 2014). Additionally, there is a longstanding body of evidence suggesting that anxiety is related to impaired attentional control (e.g. Eysenck et al., 2007, Berggren & Derakshan, 2013), which may limit working memory capacity (Moran, 2016). Despite this, studies of the impact of anxiety on working memory, particularly in the visual domain, remain relatively few in number. The purpose of this review is to highlight our developing understanding of the impacts of anxiety on cognition, and the future directions that research in this area may usefully take.