Fractionating the role of executive control in control over worry: A preliminary investigation

Lauren S. Hallion, Ayelet Meron Ruscio, Amishi P. Jha

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Scopus citations


Uncontrollable anxious thought characterizes a number of emotional disorders. Little is known, however, about the cognitive mechanisms that underlie the ability to control these thoughts. The present study investigated the extent to which two well-characterized executive control processes-working memory and inhibition-are engaged when an individual attempts to control worry. Participants completed a concurrent assessment of these processes while attempting to control personally-relevant worried and neutral thoughts. To examine the specificity of these effects to attempts to control worry, versus a residual "depletion" effect of having previously engaged in worry, a subset of participants completed the assessment without instructions to control their worried or neutral thoughts. Attempts to control worry engaged working memory and inhibition to a greater extent than did attempts to control neutral thought. This increased engagement was not explained solely by anxious affect, nor was it significantly associated with trait worry. Engagement did not differ by group, suggesting that executive control depletion by worry cannot be dismissed as an alternative explanation of these findings. These results highlight working memory and inhibition as potentially valuable constructs for deepening our understanding of the nature and treatment of worry and its control.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-6
Number of pages6
JournalBehaviour Research and Therapy
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2014


  • Anxiety
  • Cognitive control
  • Inhibition
  • Working memory
  • Worry

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Clinical Psychology
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology


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