Dynamically Tracking Anxious Individuals’ Affective Response to Valenced Information

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Abstract

Past research has shown that an individual’s feelings at any given moment reflect currently experienced stimuli as well as internal representations of similar past experiences. However, anxious individuals’ affective reactions to streams of interrelated valenced information (vs. reactions to static stimuli that are arguably less ecologically valid) are rarely tracked. The present study provided a first examination of the newly developed Tracking Affect Ratings Over Time (TAROT) task to continuously assess anxious individuals’ affective reactions to streams of information that systematically change valence. Undergraduate participants (N = 141) completed the TAROT task in which they listened to narratives containing positive, negative, and neutral physically- or socially-relevant events, and indicated how positive or negative they felt about the information they heard as each narrative unfolded. The present study provided preliminary evidence for the validity and reliability of the task. Within scenarios, participants higher (vs. lower) in anxiety showed many expected negative biases, reporting more negative mean ratings and overall summary ratings, changing their pattern of responding more quickly to negative events, and responding more negatively to neutral events. Furthermore, individuals higher (vs. lower) in anxiety tended to report more negative minimums during and after positive events, and less positive maximums after negative events. Together, findings indicate that positive events were less impactful for anxious individuals, whereas negative experiences had a particularly lasting impact on future affective responses. The TAROT task is able to efficiently capture a number of different cognitive biases, and may help clarify the mechanisms that underlie anxious individuals’ biased negative processing.

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