Cognition & emotion

The effects of cognitive load on attention control in subclinical anxiety and generalised anxiety disorder.

PMID 25355423


Poor regulation of emotions may involve impaired attention control. In the current paper, we report the results of two studies examining the interaction of anxiety, attention control and cognitive load. In Study I, using a performance-based task to assess attention control, we examined whether anxiety is associated with impaired attention control, and whether these effects are influenced by working memory load. In Study II, we examined these effects in patients with a diagnosis of generalised anxiety disorder (GAD) compared to non-anxious control (NAC) participants. Results of Study I showed that high anxiety was associated with increased attention control, that is decreased interference from distractors, but only under high cognitive load. These results were replicated in Study II such that individuals with GAD showed increased attention control relative to NACs, but only under high cognitive load. These results help clarify previous predictions regarding the effect of anxiety on attention control.