abstract Christine Purdon

Christine Purdon (University of Waterloo, Canada)

The persistence of anxious thoughts

Anxious thoughts are a pervasive feature of almost all forms of psychopathology and are, of course, the cardinal symptoms of anxiety disorders and obsessive compulsive disorder. Why are anxious thoughts so difficult to control? This talk explores leading ideas about why unwanted anxious thoughts persist, observes complexities involved in studying anxious thoughts and identifies lacunae in our understanding of the problem. It is argued that we may be best served by understanding anxious thoughts as internal threat stimuli that receive high attentional priority. As such, research on attentional processes and mind wandering may have much to offer us. Factors that influence attention, such as motivation and goals, may be essential to understanding why anxious thoughts become a focus of attention at the expense of other goals. Recent data examining visual attention to threat and motivation will be presented. Clinical implications for understanding anxious thoughts as a problem of attention will be discussed.