Beliefs About Worry Moderate the Association Between Heart Rate Variability and Pathological Worry
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Publisher:The Ohio State University
Series/Report no.:The Ohio State University. Department of Psychology Undergraduate Research Theses; 2019
Research has demonstrated that a substantial subset of individuals experiencing uncontrollable worry, a hallmark symptom of generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), paradoxically have good capacity for top-down control over their thoughts. However, why individuals with good cognitive control worry excessively remains unclear. Research showing that positive beliefs about worry set those experiencing pathological worry apart from healthy controls, offers a possible explanation. Individuals with good capacity for cognitive control may intentionally engage in worry because they hold beliefs that it is adaptive to do so. This study tested this hypothesis using an objective index of cognitive control capacity (resting heart rate variability [HRV]). Questionnaire measures of generalized anxiety disorder symptom severity and beliefs about worry were administered and heart rate variability, as an objective measure of cognitive control, was measured in a sample of 109 undergraduate students at The Ohio State University (ages 18-28, M = 19.3, SD = 2.1, 65.1% female). Consistent with expectation, regression analyses revealed that positive beliefs about worry largely moderated the association between heart rate variability and pathological worry. The general pattern showed that individuals with high levels of HRV tended to report experiencing high GAD symptom severity when they strongly endorsed positive beliefs about worry. This indicates that such individuals at least initiate worry intentionally, although questions remain as to how such purposeful worry becomes excessive and uncontrollable.
Academic Major: Psychology
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