Anxiety and retrieval inhibition: support for an enhanced inhibition account

Mia Nuñez*, Josh Gregory, Richard E. Zinbarg

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Retrieval inhibition of negative associations is important for exposure therapy for anxiety, but the relationship between memory inhibition and anxiety is not well understood—anxiety could either be associated with enhanced or deficient inhibition. The present study tested these two competing hypotheses by measuring retrieval inhibition of negative stimuli by related neutral stimuli. Non-clinically anxious undergraduates completed measures of trait and state anxiety and completed a retrieval induced forgetting task. Adaptive forgetting varied with state anxiety. Low levels of state anxiety were associated with no evidence for retrieval inhibition for either threatening or non-threatening categories. Participants in the middle tertile of state anxiety scores exhibited retrieval inhibition for non-threatening categories but not for threatening categories. Participants in the highest tertile of state anxiety, however, exhibited retrieval inhibition for both threatening and non-threatening categories with the magnitude of retrieval inhibition being greater for threatening than non-threatening categories. The data are in line with the avoidance aspect of the vigilance–avoidance theory of anxiety and inhibition. Implications for cognitive behavioural therapy practices are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)349-359
Number of pages11
JournalCognition and Emotion
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 17 2017


  • Inhibition
  • anxiety
  • retrieval-induced forgetting
  • threat

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)


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