Masters Thesis

Anxiety, depression, and comorbidity: the relationship between attention and word valence

There is evidence that anxious and depressive symptomology in individuals may negatively affect attentional processes (Macleod et al., 1986). Additionally, the personal relevance of words has been demonstrated to increase attentional biases in depressed and anxious individuals. The present study examined the relationships between depression, anxiety, and the comorbidity of these disorders, and response times on an emotional Stroop task using positive, negative, and personally relevant negative words. Participants were recruited through Amazon’s Mechanical Turk. Data from 417 participants were used in data analyses. Multiple regression analyses found depression scores were significantly negatively related to response times to negative words, and anxiety scores were significantly positively related to response times to negative words. A paired samples t-test found no difference in response times to negative and personally relevant negative words. Although I planned to compare the strength of the relationships between depression and response time to personally relevant- and non-personally relevant negative words, neither correlation was significant. The correlation between anxiety and mean response times to personally relevant negative words was also not statistically significant. However, the correlation between anxiety and mean response times to negative words did demonstrate statistical significance. The positive relationship found between anxiety and attention to negative words was indicative of anxiety being associated with decreased attentional focus. Additionally, anxious symptomology may have had a stronger effect on attentional focus to stimuli than did depressive symptomology, even if depressive symptoms were much greater. For all emotional word categories of the emotional Stroop, depressed and anxious participants’ overall performance may have been negatively affected. Limitations included use of an online platform, data collection through MTurk, and potential COVID-19 influences on participant depression and anxiety