According to a new study, verbal cues are used more often than visual images by people with generalized anxiety (GAD). Researchers at King’s College London, University of Western Australia, the University of California, Davis, and Penn State University, looked at individuals with and without GAD to determine the extent of imagery during worry. “In summary, the present study was designed to assess whether images during worry occur less often, or are briefer, than images generated when thinking about a personally relevant future positive event, and whether any such differences are more marked in clients with GAD than in a non-GAD control group,” said the researchers.
The team enlisted 20 individuals currently being treated for GAD, and 20 with no history of anxiety. The participants were assessed using the Penn State Worry Questionnaire, the State-Trait Anxiety Inventory and the Beck Depression Inventory prior to the study. For the study, the subjects were instructed to think of a topic that caused them worry for two minutes while a facilitator questioned them about the topic. Next, the participants were each asked to think about a positive topic and were asked to identify things that were good about the topic. Following that task, each participant was given either the positive or worrisome topic and asked to think about it for three minutes. Every ten seconds, they would be prompted to record whether they were imagining a verbal or visual image and instructed to record the duration of the image.
The study revealed that the GAD group had fewer visual images while worrying than the control group. Additionally, the GAD had shorter periods of visual imagery. “This finding suggests that those with GAD may have adopted a general mentation style favoring verbal thinking over imagery, and although this is most marked during worry, it can extend to non-worry topics as well,” said the researchers. “Given that imagery has been shown to be particularly brief in GAD, clients with this clinical problem may benefit from engaging in more prolonged imagery of worry content (i.e., what they fear will happen), as is encouraged by some forms of cognitive behavior therapy for GAD.”
Hirsch, C. R., Hayes, S., Mathews, A., Perman, G., & Borkovec, T. (2011, August 15). The Extent and Nature of Imagery During Worry and Positive Thinking in Generalized Anxiety Disorder. Journal of Abnormal Psychology. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0024947
© Copyright 2011 by By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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