Willingness to See Things Differently May Decrease Anxiety

People who struggle with anxiety tend to feel more threatened and fearful than others. In clinical studies, threat and neutral stimuli are used to determine the attentional bias of participants with anxiety and it has been found that those who perceive the stimuli as more threatening are often the same individuals with the greatest symptoms. Specifically, people with a readiness to acquire an attentional bias (RAAB) are more likely to have elevated levels of anxiety when confronted with even a moderately stressful stimulus. Many widely used therapies that attempt to reduce anxiety focus on this precise issue. However, people often fail to respond to treatment and continue to suffer with persisting symptoms. In an effort to determine if RAAB could predict how an individual would respond to anxiety treatment, researchers from the University of Sydney, New South Wales, conducted a study on 34 individuals undergoing treatment for anxiety.  “Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) has consistently been shown to reduce anxiety symptoms in those suffering anxiety disorders,” said Patrick J.F. Clarke of the Mind Research Institute at the University, and lead author of the study. “Despite the apparent effectiveness of CBT, there is considerable individual difference in treatment response, with a significant proportion of individuals showing limited anxiety reduction in response to treatment. Identifying the facilitators and impediments to anxiety reduction in therapy has been the subject of considerable attention.”

Clarke and his colleagues examined the level of RAAB exhibited by the participants after 8 weeks of CBT. “Consistent with this requirement, the group treatment program resulted in significant reductions in all measures of anxiety vulnerability from the beginning to the end of therapy,” said Clarke. “The findings of the present study revealed that individual differences in RAAB elicited by brief exposure to an experimental contingency serves to predict the extent to which individuals subsequently reduce anxiety in response to a therapeutic intervention.”

Clarke, P. J. F., Chen, N. T. M., & Guastella, A. J. (2011, October 3). Prepared for the Best: Readiness To Modify Attentional Processing and Reduction in Anxiety Vulnerability in Response to Therapy. Emotion. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0025592

© Copyright 2011 by By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Faith


    October 17th, 2011 at 3:29 PM

    Don’t you believe that those who experience anxiety as an integral part of their daily lives know this already? Don’t you think that it is that very fear that CAUSES much of their anxieties to begin with?

  • Anna


    October 17th, 2011 at 6:26 PM

    I find it very logical, because although it may be triggered by some punctual or specific factors, anxiety disorders are, definitely an imbalance and clearly a much broad problem in a general sense, hence trying to change thoughts and behavior patterns, makes perfect sense.

  • Staci Grierson

    Staci Grierson

    October 18th, 2011 at 9:11 AM

    There’s a great quote by movie director David Cronenberg that goes: “When you’re in the muck you can only see muck. If you somehow manage to float above it, you still see the muck but you see it from a different perspective. And you see other things too. That’s the consolation of philosophy.” SO true!

  • U.M.D.


    October 18th, 2011 at 10:01 AM

    Opening your eyes metaphorically to see more can help immensely in reshaping your outlook. That makes me think about the story of the blind men and the elephant. Six blind men touch different parts of the elephant, draw their own conclusions from that individual touch what an elephant must look like, and proceed to argue furiously over that.

  • abel


    October 18th, 2011 at 12:38 PM

    if you are hit by something you tend to pay attention to the source in anticipation and will be on guard.that is what s happening here with these people.they might have had an experience wherein they have had it tough and so they are always looking at things rather too much and that in turn leads to stress!

  • Harriett


    October 18th, 2011 at 5:49 PM

    Sometimes the answer to any problem, even the most difficult ones, is to simply look for a new solution. That is where those with anxiety disorders could tend to feak out just a little bit. They may feel mired down in the routine but REALLY thrown off base when looking at something new. This could be an especially difficult task for them to undertake.

  • Harriett


    October 18th, 2011 at 5:50 PM

    oops I meant FREAK out- my bad

  • Tyler Young

    Tyler Young

    October 19th, 2011 at 12:30 AM

    @U.M.D–I love that story. It dates back centuries and is as meaningful now as it was back then.

    The elephant tale is also there to remind us that it’s not wise to be rigid in your thoughts as they aren’t always right. For us to maintain the ability to view our world from differing perspectives we need to be flexible.

  • jimmy.M


    October 19th, 2011 at 12:33 PM

    Nobody can see something from just one viewpoint and take the best recourse. Everything requires good observation and study to solve it and problems in life are no different from a scientific or math problem.

  • K.J.


    October 19th, 2011 at 1:10 PM

    When I get anxious it’s like I develop selective hearing. Only what I want to hear sinks in. Anything that conflicts with my world view doesn’t and I zone out. I’m a star at picking bits out of conversations and putting them together out of context. Breaking that habit is a real struggle, believe me.

  • Gavin Sully

    Gavin Sully

    October 19th, 2011 at 1:25 PM

    Nice to see a study acknowledge that we aren’t all cut from the same cloth and an anxiety treatment program that works for one client won’t necessarily work for another.

    I for example respond well to recognition of effort. I don’t respond well at all if I feel I’m being interrogated. In fact I’ll retreat as far into myself as possible. It takes a great deal for me to trust anyone without reservation so I can work well with them.

  • T.R. Smith

    T.R. Smith

    October 19th, 2011 at 1:34 PM

    @Gavin- That’s correct. There’s no one size fits all approach. I can’t take meds for my anxiety. They don’t have any positive effect on me and have even made me worse in the past. Because of that I have to rely on talk therapy to help me. Everyone I meet, when they find out I have anxiety, will ask what meds I’m on. When I tell them none, they say “oh take this or that! It ALWAYS works for everybody.”

    Well I’m here to tell you that no, they don’t always work. I’ve tried every anxiety med under the sun. So don’t think that (or count on) pills alone for getting you through anxiety. Know there are alternatives.

  • Neil Newman

    Neil Newman

    October 19th, 2011 at 7:02 PM

    Stress is a modern day ill and we brought it all upon our own heads by becoming so demanding-of our lifestyle, our career paths, and of ourselves.

    The answer is to lead a simple life! The more junk you have in it – be it gadgets, people, time commitments, to-do lists etc. – the more you have to deal with. Clean out the clutter of your life and simplify. Be happier with less. It’s not rocket science.

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