Category: Cognitive Science / Cognitive Processes

PS13- #B42 - Expanding Upon Attentional Control Theory: The Interactive Effects of Anxiety Symptoms and Looming Cognitive Style on Reaction Times

Saturday, Nov 18
2:45 PM – 3:45 PM
Location: Indigo Ballroom CDGH, Level 2, Indigo Level

Keywords: Anxiety | Attention | Cognitive Vulnerability

Attentional control theory posits that anxiety decreases the efficiency of cognitive processing by placing demands on working memory and consuming attentional resources (Eysenck, Derakshan, Santos, & Calvo, 2007; Eysenck & Calvo, 1992).  While past research has supported this claim by providing evidence that highly anxious participants have slower reaction times on cognitive tasks than controls (Cloitre, Heimberg, Holt, & Liebowitz, 1992; Elliman, Green, Rogers, & Finch, 1997; Rai, Loschky, & Harris, 2015), it remains unclear whether anxiety-related constructs, such as cognitive styles, affect reaction times in a similar manner.  In order to fill this gap in the literature 72 participants performed a timed, cognitively demanding recognition task in which they made a series of judgments regarding previously seen dynamic, affective images.  In addition to measuring their trait anxiety, we measured their levels of looming cognitive style (LCS; Riskind, Williams, Gessner, Chrosniak, & Cortina, 2000), a cognitive vulnerability factor which had been linked to anxiety and behavioral urgency (Reardon & Williams, 2007).  Consistent with attentional control theory, participants with high anxiety had slower reaction times than participants with low anxiety regardless of image content.  This effect was qualified by an interaction between anxiety and LCS, indicating that among participants with high anxiety, high LCS was associated with quicker reaction times than low LCS.  These results indicate that while anxiety increased reaction times, LCS appears to decrease reaction times, perhaps because it acts in a similar way to time urgency (Landy, Rastegary, Thayer, & Colvin, 1991).  That is, individuals high in LCS may feel more time pressure during performance tasks and increase their speed accordingly.

John T. West

George Mason University
Burke, Virginia

John H. Riskind

George Mason University
Fairfax, Virginia

Linda D. Chrosniak

Associate Professor
George Mason University