Previous research has documented the inhibitory effects of worry on cardiovascular reactivity to subsequently presented fear-relevant stimuli. Although theoretical assertions point to the verbal-linguistic (as opposed to imagery-based) nature of worry as the cause of these inhibitory effects, extant research investigating the effects of worrisome thinking on subsequent anxiety-eliciting tasks has not isolated the verbal-linguistic nature of worry as the active ingredient in its suppressive effects on arousal. Furthermore, prior research has not examined the potential effects of worry on maintenance of panic symptoms. In this study, participants high in anxiety sensitivity were asked to engage in verbal worry, imaginal worry, or relaxation prior to each of three repeated presentations of an interoceptive exposure task. Relaxation was associated with lower initial subjective fear that remained low across repeated exposures, and related stable sympathetic arousal (and decreased heart rate) over time. Imagery-based worry was associated with moderate initial subjective fear that was sustained across repeated exposures, and sympathetic arousal (and heart rate) that was likewise stable over time. However, verbal worry was associated with high initial subjective fear that was sustained over time, but sympathetic arousal (and heart rate) that decreased across repeated exposures. Thus, verbal worry was uniquely associated with a lack of synchronous response systems and maintenance of anxious meaning over time. Theoretical and clinical implications are discussed.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
- Clinical Psychology
- Psychiatry and Mental health