How do worry and clinical status impact working memory performance? An experimental investigation

  • Judith Held (Creator)
  • Andreea Vîslă (Contributor)
  • Richard E Zinbarg (Creator)
  • Christine Wolfer (Creator)
  • Christoph Flückiger (Creator)



Abstract Background Previous research has suggested that worry is negatively associated with working memory performance. However, it is unclear whether these findings would replicate across different worry levels and in individuals with anxiety and depressive disorders (i.e. clinical statuses). Method One-hundred-thirty-eight participants performed a two-block working memory task (150 trials per block). Based on participants` current clinical status, four groups were considered (generalised anxiety disorder group: n = 36; clinical group with another anxiety or mood disorders: n = 33; subclinical group: n = 27; control group: n = 42). Trait worry levels were collected from all of the participants. Working memory performance was measured as accuracy and reaction time. Results During the first block, higher worry scores were significantly associated with longer reaction times. Moreover, the generalised anxiety disorder group, clinical group, and subclinical groups demonstrated significantly longer reaction times compared to the control group in Block 1, when age was controlled for. From Block 1 to Block 2, all of the participants demonstrated a significant decrease in accuracy and reaction time, regardless of worry level or clinical status. Conclusion The results indicate that higher worry levels negatively impact WM processing efficiency. Moreover, when age was controlled for, we found participants` clinical status to be linked with WM impairments. The results highlight the relevance of investigating the impact of different worry levels on cognitive processes across clinical and non-clinical populations.
Date made available2020

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