Cognitive Functions in Young Adults with Generalized Anxiety Disorder
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Background: Anxiety and worry are central symptoms of Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) that have been theorized to negatively impact cognitive functions. However, most of the research has focused on threat-related or emotionally-charged stimuli, and a surprisingly small number of investigations examined ‘cold’ cognitive functions using classic neuropsychological tests. Such investigations are particularly important given that some theoretical models suggest compensatory mechanisms associated with anxiety that in certain circumstances may result in intact performance. The aim of the present study is to assess the neuropsychological profile associated with GAD, using a comprehensive neuropsychological battery.
Methods: A sample of 23 college students meeting criteria for DSM-5 GAD and 20 control participants completed a psychometrically valid comprehensive computerized neuropsychological battery and clinical questionnaires.
Results: The GAD sample presented with significantly elevated symptomatic rates of anxiety, worry, depression and stress. However, no significant differences were found on any neuropsychological outcome measures or domain indexes. Effect sizes were small, some of which favored the GAD sample.
Conclusion: Despite substantial psychopathological burden, GAD exhibited intact cognitive functioning. These results support the Cognitive Control Theory of Anxiety, suggesting that elevated primary anxiety may not impact ‘cold’ cognitive functions in the absence of threat or substantial cognitive load. Given that this is one of the only studies employing a comprehensive neuropsychological battery in GAD, more research is needed in this population to replicate these results and to examine the impact of anxiety on cognitive functions at varying degrees of cognitive load in this population.