Individual differences in affective flexibility predict future anxiety and worry.
Twivy E., Grol M., Fox E.
Deficits in cognitive flexibility have been associated with anxiety and worry, however few studies have assessed cognitive flexibility in the context of emotional stimuli (i.e. affective flexibility). The present study (n = 79) investigated whether individual differences in affective flexibility predict levels of trait anxiety and worry over a period of seven weeks. Affective flexibility was measured using a task-switching paradigm. Results showed that less efficient shifting of attention towards affective aspects of positive stimuli predicted higher anxiety over time. Additionally, more efficient shifting of attention away from affective towards non-affective aspects of negative stimuli predicted higher anxiety and worry over time. This latter finding may be understood by considering theoretical models and empirical evidence associating avoidance of negative information with increased anxiety. The effects were small and require replication in larger, representative samples, but they are an initial indication that anxiety may not be associated with general impairments in cognitive flexibility. Instead, our study emphasises the importance of breaking down cognitive flexibility into different components to investigate more nuanced relationships.