Category: Adult Anxiety

PS2- #A8 - Describing Internal Experiences Helps to Explain the Link Between Anxiety and Depression Symptoms and Attentional Control Deficits

Friday, Nov 17
9:45 AM – 10:45 AM
Location: Indigo Ballroom CDGH, Level 2, Indigo Level

Keywords: Anxiety | Depression | Attention

Set shifting is an aspect of attentional control referring to the ability to shift between multiple tasks or mental sets (Miyake & Friedman, 2012). A switch cost is an index of attentional control ability and represents the extra time needed when shifting attention between competing mental sets (Wylie & Allport, 2000).  Symptoms of anxiety and depression are associated with increased switch costs (Deraksham, Smyth, & Eysenck, 2009; Piguet et al., 2016); however, the mechanisms underlying the relationship between anxiety and depression and resultant attentional control deficits remains understudied. One such mechanism, mindfulness, has demonstrated initial effects on reducing depression and anxiety, as well as on switch cost (Chambers, Lo, Allen, 2008), but the facets of mindfulness that drive this relationship remain unclear. The current study was designed to test the indirect effects of five facets of mindfulness on the relationship between anxiety, depression, and switch costs.


Undergraduates (N = 209), predominantly male (58.3%, n = 123, M age = 19.81; SD = 2.65) from a large Midwestern university completed the Depression, Anxiety, and Stress Scale anxiety and depression subscales, the Five Facet Mindfulness Questionnaire, and an Internal Shift Task. Switch costs were calculated by subtracting the median reaction time for switch trials from non-switch trials.


Two mediation models were estimated to investigate which facets of mindfulness have a significant impact on the relationship between anxiety/depression and switch cost. The overall model for anxiety was not significant, F(1, 209) = .01, p = .92; however, there was a significant indirect effect of describing the internal experience on the relationship between anxiety and switch cost, 95% CI: [5.07, -.06]. Similarly, the overall model for depression was not significant, F(1, 207) = .13, p = .72; nevertheless, there was a significant indirect effect of describing the internal experience on the relationship between depression and switch cost, 95% CI: [-5.88, -.32]. Of note, the results are in line with recent approaches to mediation analyses in which a nonsignificant overall model does not preclude conclusions about significant indirect effects (Hayes, 2009).


These results suggest that one’s ability to describe internal emotional experiences has an impact on the link between anxiety and depression and attentional control deficits. One previous study noted significant effects of a mindfulness intervention on reducing symptoms of depression and lowering switch costs; this was the first known study to differentiate the facets of mindfulness, which may impact the associations between symptoms and attentional control deficits. Targeting describing emotions specifically in mindfulness-based interventions may improve attentional control abilities in those with anxiety and depression. Future studies should examine the longitudinal role of describing emotions to clarify its causal influence on the development and maintenance of anxiety, depression, and attentional control problems.

Thomas Ticheur

Undergraduate Student
Southern Illinois University-Carbondale

Kimberly Stevens

Graduate Student
Southern Illinois University
Carbondale, Illinois

Samuel L. Kramer

Southern Illinois University

Sarah J. Kertz

Assistant Professor
Southern Illinois University-Carbondale
Carbondale, Illinois