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Studies of generalized worry in college students

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Studies of generalized worry in college students
Spence, Tamara Elena
Worry is a chain of negative thoughts about uncertain future events. It is the primary diagnostic criterion for generalized anxiety disorder and is a major cognitive component of anxiety. Worry can be dissociated from anxiety through the use of psychometric measures such as the abbreviated version of the Penn State Worry Questionnaire (PSWQ-A), which assesses the severity of generalized worry and may be used to indicate the likelihood of anxiety pathology. Chronic worriers often experience free-floating anxiety due, in part, to the paradoxical nature of worry: it is associated with a lower threshold for threat detection as well as a failure to rationally evaluate the threat. Therefore, better-understanding the temporal dynamics of information processing as a function of worry severity may lead to the identification of objective markers of pathological worry that can then be used as targets for anxiety treatment. The present studies were conducted to increase our knowledge of the processes underlying worry. Participants were nonclinical young adults who were recruited using the PSWQ-A. Despite its high test-retest reliability, the PSWQ-A demonstrated temporal instability, particularly among high worriers, for whom trait anxiety served to better-predict final classification as either a moderate or chronic high worrier. Activation of the defensive motivational system was probed using the acoustic startle response, and startle modification by visually presented words was used to quantify threat perception across various stages of information processing. Chronic high worriers exhibited word-induced startle facilitation at all stages of information processing. Notably, the failure to show startle inhibition at a timepoint associated with the threshold for conscious perception may indicate a worry-dependent disengagement of attention following semantic analysis. These findings are consistent with the vigilance-avoidance hypothesis of anxiety, and support the use of word-induced startle facilitation as a potential pathognomonic for chronic worry. High worriers then completed an attention-retraining intervention. Word-induced startle facilitation was unaffected by the intervention; however, state anxiety increased over time, suggesting that repeated exposure to startle stimuli may be anxiogenic for high worriers. This finding limits the utility of affective startle modification paradigms for evaluating the efficacy of anxiety-reducing treatments within a single session.
acoustic startle response
blink magnitude
startle modification
threat bias
Blumenthal, Terry D. (committee chair)
Milligan, Carol E. (committee member)
Brenes, Gretchen A. (committee member)
Jennings, Janine M. (committee member)
Weiner, Jeffrey L. (committee member)
2014-07-10T08:35:44Z (accessioned)
2015-07-10T08:30:10Z (available)
2014 (issued)
Neuroscience (discipline)
2015-07-10 (terms)
http://hdl.handle.net/10339/39332 (uri)
en (iso)
Wake Forest University

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