The Interplay between Cognition and Worry

University essay from Lunds universitet/Institutionen för psykologi

Abstract: An increasing amount of research findings is showing that higher engagement in cognitive tasks alleviates the interference of anxiety and worry on task performance as compared to lower task engagement. Yet, it is still not clear which cognitive functions are mostly contributing to this relieving effect. To add to the current knowledge, the present experimental work investigated the relations between task performance, patterns in pupil dilation and increased difficulty in tasks requiring, among others, cognitive maintenance and updating functions in induced ‘worry’ and ‘no worry’ conditions. In addition, the present experiment explored if visual complexity level of stimuli is modulating these relations. Data analyses of the response speed, proportion of correct answers and pupillary baseline measures revealed statistically significant three-way interactions between the condition (‘worry’, ‘no worry’), visual complexity (low, high), and task (n-back, reference-back). The results showed lower performance measures in the ‘worry’ condition than in the ‘no worry’ condition in an easier n-back task, but this disadvantage was eliminated with increased task difficulty. Results of the reference-back task revealed that increased period of mental object maintenance may be sufficient to shield from disadvantages in the performance efficiency in the ‘worry’ condition. The results also showed that increased visual complexity of stimuli interfered with the task performance more in the ‘worry’ condition than in the ‘no worry’ condition. Pupil dilation data showed higher baseline pupil sizes in the ‘no worry’ condition linked with, among others, higher working memory capacity, as compared to smaller pupil sizes in the ‘worry’ condition.

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