Worry impairs the problem-solving process: Results from an experimental study

Sandra J. Llera, Michelle G. Newman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Scopus citations


Introduction: Many individuals believe that worry helps solve real-life problems. Some researchers also purport that nonpathological worry can aid problem solving. However, this is in contrast to evidence that worry impairs cognitive functioning. Objective: This was the first study to empirically test the effects of a laboratory-based worry induction on problem-solving abilities. Procedure: Both high (n = 96) and low (n = 89) trait worriers described a current problem in their lives. They were then randomly assigned to contemplate their problem in a worrisome (n = 60) or objective (n = 63) manner or to engage in a diaphragmatic breathing task (n = 62). All participants subsequently generated solutions and then selected their most effective solution. Next, they rated their confidence in the solution's effectiveness, their likelihood to implement the solution, and their current anxiety/worry. Experimenters uninformed of condition also rated solution effectiveness. Results: The worry induction led to lower reported confidence in solutions for high trait worry participants, and lower experimenter-rated effectiveness of solutions for all participants, relative to objective thinking. Further, state worry predicted less reported intention to implement solutions, while controlling for trait worry. Finally, worrying about the problem led to more elevated worry and anxiety after solving the problem compared to the other two conditions. Conclusions: Overall, the worry induction impaired problem solving on multiple levels, and this was true for both high and low trait worriers.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number103759
JournalBehaviour Research and Therapy
StatePublished - Dec 2020

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Clinical Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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