Mindfulness and anxiety: the role of attentional control and threat-processing

Ben Ainsworth

Research output: ThesisMaster's Thesis


Current models of anxiety propose that deficits in cognitive and attentional control are risk factors for the development and persistence of worry and anxiety (Eysenck, Derakshan, Santos, & Calvo, 2007). Clinically anxious individuals demonstrate maladaptive attentional biases towards anxiogenic threatening stimuli that may be modulated by biases in attentional subsystems (Derryberry & Reed, 2002). Mindfulness-based treatments have shown some efficacy in treating anxiety and mood disorders (Evans et al., 2008). Mindfulness treatments endorse deliberate, non-judgemental attention and have demonstrated a range of effects on several behavioural measures of attention (Josefsson & Broberg, 2011; Moore & Malinowski, 2009). This thesis sought to clarify the effects of mindfulness on attentional functioning, and the extent to which this association could reduce/protect against anxiety by correcting dysfunctional attentional biases to threat.A cross-sectional study identified attentional control and worrying rumination as key elements in the relationship between dispositional mindfulness and anxiety. The first in a systematic series of experiments looked at the effects of two different aspects of mindfulness (focused attention and open-monitoring meditation) on a measure of attentional subsystem functioning (attention network test). The next study examined the effects of a more extensive mindfulness intervention on two measures of threat-appraisal (eye-blink startle), and attention-to-threat (antisaccade task). Finally, a novel experimental model of anxiety (7.5% CO2) was used to examine acute effects of focused attention and open-monitoring meditation on autonomic and self-report measures of anxiety.Findings from this thesis were in line with evidence that mindfulness increases executive attention (Jha, Krompinger, & Baime, 2007; Tang et al., 2007) and showed some evidence that dispositional mindfulness may be related to maladaptive threat-processing. Our novel finding that mindfulness protected against experimentally-induced anxiety support our evidence that improvements in attentional performance may be behind the efficacy of mindfulness-based treatments for anxiety and GAD.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Southampton
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2013


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