Cognitive Therapy and Research

, Volume 40, Issue 4, pp 453–467 | Cite as

The Impact of Thought Speed and Variability on Psychological State and Threat Perception: Further Exploration of the Theory of Mental Motion

Original Article


Thought speed and variability are purportedly common features of specific psychological states, such as mania and anxiety. The present study explored the independent and combinational influence of these variables upon condition-specific symptoms and affective state, as proposed by Pronin and Jacobs’ (Perspect Psychol Sci, 3:461–485, 2008) theory of mental motion. A general population sample was recruited online (N = 263). Participants completed a thought speed and variability manipulation task, inducing a combination of fast/slow and varied/repetitive thought. Change in mania and anxiety symptoms was assessed through direct self-reported symptom levels and indirect, processing bias assessment (threat interpretation). Results indicated that fast and varied thought independently increased self-reported mania symptoms. Affect was significantly less positive and more negative during slow thought. No change in anxiety symptoms or threat interpretation was found between manipulation conditions. No evidence for the proposed combinational influence of speed and variability was found. Implications and avenues for therapeutic intervention are discussed.


Thought speed Thought variability Mental motion Mania Anxiety Depression Threat Affect Processing bias 



We are grateful to Dr Emily Pronin for providing materials and guidance to allow the replication of her experimental thought speed and variability manipulation protocol.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflicts of Interest

This research was conducted as part of the first author’s doctorate in Clinical Psychology. Ben Rosser and Kim Wright declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical Approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.

Animal Rights

This article does not contain any studies with animals performed by any of the authors.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Psychological Sciences, Institute of Health and SocietyUniversity of WorcesterWorcesterUK
  2. 2.School of PsychologyUniversity of ExeterExeterUK

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