The present study examined the effect of worry versus relaxation and neutral thought activity on both physiological and subjective responding to positive and negative emotional stimuli. Thirty-eight participants with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) and 35 nonanxious control participants were randomly assigned to engage in worry, relaxation, or neutral inductions prior to sequential exposure to each of four emotion-inducing film clips. The clips were designed to elicit fear, sadness, happiness, and calm emotions. Self reported negative and positive affect was assessed following each induction and exposure, and vagal activity was measured throughout. Results indicate that worry (vs. relaxation) led to reduced vagal tone for the GAD group, as well as higher negative affect levels for both groups. Additionally, prior worry resulted in less physiological and subjective responding to the fearful film clip, and reduced negative affect in response to the sad clip. This suggests that worry may facilitate avoidance of processing negative emotions by way of preventing a negative emotional contrast. Implications for the role of worry in emotion avoidance are discussed.
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