Category: Cognitive Science / Cognitive Processes


Theory of Mind and GAD

Friday, November 17
3:30 PM - 5:00 PM
Location: Cobalt 502, Level 5, Cobalt Level

Keywords: GAD (Generalized Anxiety Disorder) | Cognitive Processes | Worry
Presentation Type: Symposium

Background and Study Aim: Literature and contemporary interpersonal models of generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) suggest that social cognition in GAD is highly complex. The common argument is that GAD sufferers have social cognition deficits that tend to be overgeneralized, and no studies thus far have used theory-of-mind (ToM), the ability to accurately infer others’ intentions, and feelings, as a framework to examine social cognition processes in GAD. This study hence aimed to examine the causal effect of worry on ToM in persons who met the clinical diagnosis for GAD and non-GAD Controls. Method: 171 participants (69 GAD, 102 Controls) underwent either a worry or relaxation induction and completed two well-validated ToM tasks. The Reading the Mind in the Eyes Test (RMET) and Movie for the Assessment of Social Cognition (MASC) were used to measure ToM decoding and reasoning respectively. Results: With regard to ToM decoding, no significant group × condition interaction effect was found [F(1, 167) = 2.25, p = .14, hp2 = .013]. Analyses for ToM reasoning, however, revealed a significant group × condition interaction effect [F(1, 167) = 8.20, p = .0047, hp2 = .047], even after accounting for gender, executive function, depressive, social anxiety symptoms, and social desirability. Among GAD individuals, worry as opposed to relaxation led to enhanced ToM reasoning. Among Controls, neither worry nor relaxation differentially impacted ToM reasoning. Furthermore, following worry exposure, GAD persons were more accurate than Controls at reasoning about negatively, but not positively, valenced social stimuli, as well as cognitive, but not affective, aspects of social interactions. Conclusion: This study provides preliminary evidence that GAD individuals who struggle with pathological worry may on average be better than non-anxious persons in picking up the social cues necessary to form accurate inferences of the mental states of others.

Hani Zainal

Doctoral Student
The Pennsylvania State University


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Theory of Mind and GAD

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