Self-attentional processes in anxiety
: an experimental study

  • Adrian Wells

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


Self-attention research has demonstrated a relationship between dispositional self-focus, anxiety proneness and fear arousal. In addition, the effect of self-focus manipulations on approach-avoidance tasks involving a feared stimulus are strikingly similar to the effects obtained from manipulation of other cognitive factors such as perceived self-efficacy. A number of experiments were designed to explore the relationship between self-focused attention and ffilxiety. Data from the experiments demonstrate that self-attention influences a variety of cognitive variables which have been considered as central factors in anxiety. Concomitants of self-focus are increased awareness of physiological arousal and overestimation of such arousal, the identification of self-discrepancies, cognitive failures and performance deficits and the activation of physical threat concepts in memory. These factors are conceptualised as central in the negative evaluation of physiological arousal and coping resources in anxiety.

Clinically anxious individuals typically have high scores in dispositional self-consciousness and body-consciousness. In patients suffering from generalised anxiety or panic disorders maladaptive self-focusing tendencies can be related to specific life stressors which render aspects of the self salient.

An analysis of the ideational component of anxiety revealed three subcomponents; negative social ideation (worry about other people's reaction to the self), negative somatic ideation (worry about physical symptoms and health) and obsessional ideation (the experience of uncontrollable and repetitive thoughts) which were differentially associated with measures of dispositional self-focus. The frequency and content of an.xious w-orry is associated with specific self-focusing tendencies.

It is proposed that the 'attentional style' of the individual is an important determinant of the nature and intensity of their affective response in a threatening situation. A self-attentional model of anxiety is proposed and the complex interaction between self-focus and other cognitive factors in anxiety such as appraisal of arousal and coping resources and perceived levels of self-efficacy is discussed. The model presents new directions for research and therapeutic intervention in anxiety.
Date of AwardJun 1987
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorD. Roy Davies (Supervisor)


  • Self-attentional processes
  • anxiety

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