Attention and memory for threat in panic disorder


Recently, information processing paradigms have been utilized to explore the role of attentional and memory processes in the maintenance of clinical anxiety disorders. The present study extended these data using a dual-task paradigm to assess attentional vigilance and a cued recognition task to evaluate short-term memory effects in Panic Disorder (PD). Twenty PD patients and 20 normal controls completed a computerized task wherein they read aloud one of a pair of rapidly presented words (primary task) while simultaneously attempting to detect a small probe that appeared adjacent to one of the words (secondary task). Eighty stimulus words were chosen to represent four categories: physical panic-related threat, social threat, positive-emotional, and neutral. Reaction time and accuracy in detecting the probe were assessed, as well as psychophysiological responding (heart rate, skin conductance, EMG). Following task completion, a cued recognition task was administered to examine short-term memory of task stimuli. Results indicated that PD patients exhibited slower reaction times relative to normal controls during presentation of physical panic-related threat and positive-emotional stimuli. A similar trend emerged for social threat stimuli, although the PD and control samples responded similarly to neutral stimuli. No group differences were found on the cued recognition measure or psychophysiological responding during task performance. The data are discussed in terms of possible implications for cognitive models of PD. © 1992.

Publication Title

Behaviour Research and Therapy