The Effects of Verbal and Imaginal Worry on Physiological and Subjective Functioning During Interoceptive Exposure

Open Access
Behar, Evelyn
Graduate Program:
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Date of Defense:
October 10, 2005
Committee Members:
  • Thomas D Borkovec, Committee Chair
  • Michelle Gayle Newman, Committee Member
  • Louis Georges Castonguay, Committee Member
  • Dennis Edward Heitzmann, Committee Member
  • worry
  • generalized anxiety disorder
  • anxiety
  • physiology
  • panic
Previous research (Borkovec & Hu, 1990; Borkovec, Lyonfields, Wiser, & Deihl, 1993; Hazlett-Stevens & Borkovec, 2001; Peasley-Miklus & Vrana, 2000) has documented the inhibitory effects of worry on cardiovascular reactivity to subsequently presented fear-relevant stimuli. However, although theoretical assertions point to the verbal-linguistic (as opposed to imagery-based) nature of worry as the cause of these inhibitory effects, extant research investigating the effects of worrisome thinking on subsequent anxiety-eliciting tasks has not isolated the verbal linguistic nature of worry as the active ingredient in its suppressive effects on arousal. The present investigation employed a condition in which worrisome imagery was used as a comparison to test the hypothesis that worry’s verbal linguistic nature is at the genesis of its inhibitory effects. Participants high in anxiety sensitivity were asked to engage in verbal worry, imaginal worry, or relaxation prior to repeated presentations of a rebreathing task. Results indicated that verbal worry was associated with increases in subjective distress and decreases in heart rate across rebreathing periods, whereas imaginal worry was associated with relatively steady levels of both subjective distress and heart rate across periods. Relaxation was associated with decreases in both subjective distress and heart rate across rebreathing periods. Furthermore, participants in the verbal worry induction experienced greater frequency of panic attacks during the final rebreathing period relative to participants in the relaxation induction. Theoretical and clinical implications of these findings are discussed.