Cognitive Therapy and Research

, Volume 43, Issue 3, pp 550–560 | Cite as

Trait Anxiety and Biased Prospective Memory for Targets Associated with Negative Future Events

  • Lies NotebaertEmail author
  • Eleanor Jones
  • Patrick J. F. Clarke
  • Colin MacLeod
Original Article


Cognitive models propose that elevated trait anxiety is associated with selective memory for negative information, although often no such effects are observed on tests of retrospective memory. One possibility is that no anxiety-linked biases in memory processes exists, however an alternative hypothesis is that trait anxiety may be associated with a bias in prospective memory, the process of remembering to carry out activities in the future. In two studies, high and low trait-anxious participants completed a prospective memory paradigm consisting of a lexical-decision task with embedded prospective memory targets. These targets signalled either negative (aversive noise burst) or benign (small monetary gain) future events. In both studies, results showed no significant effect of trait anxiety on prospective memory performance, and no interaction with target type. Thus, these results are in line with the research on anxiety-linked biases in retrospective memory, showing no evidence for a bias in prospective memory.


Anxiety Cognitive bias Memory bias Prospective memory 


Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

LN and CM were supported in part by the Australian Research Council under Grant FL170100167. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript. Authors PC and EJ declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Informed Consent

All procedures followed were in accordance with the ethical standards of the responsible committee on human experimentation (national and institutional). Informed consent was obtained from all individual subjects participating in the study.

Animal Rights Statements

No animal studies were carried out by the authors for this article.


  1. Amir, N., Beard, C., & Bower, E. (2005). Interpretation bias and social anxiety. Cognitive Therapy and Research, 29(4), 433–443. Scholar
  2. Bar-Haim, Y., Lamy, D., Pergamin, L., Bakermans-Kranenburg, M. J., & van Ijzendoorn, M. H. (2007). Threat-related attentional bias in anxious and nonanxious individuals: A meta-analytic study. Psychological Bulletin, 133(1), 1–24. Scholar
  3. Barlow, D. H. (1988). Anxiety and its disorders: The nature and treatment of anxiety and panic. New York: Guilford Press.Google Scholar
  4. Barnes, L. L., Harp, D., & Jung, W. S. (2002). Reliability generalization of scores on the Spielberger State-Trait Anxiety Inventory. Educational and Psychological Measurement, 62(4), 603–618. Scholar
  5. Beck, A. T., & Clark, D. A. (1997). An information processing model of anxiety: Automatic and strategic processes. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 35(1), 49–58.Google Scholar
  6. Beck, A. T., Emery, G., & Greenberg, R. L. (1985). Anxiety disorders and phobias: a cognitive perspective. New York: Basic Books.Google Scholar
  7. Bower, G. H. (1981). Mood and memory. American Psychologist, 36(2), 129–148.Google Scholar
  8. Bradley, M. M., & Lang, P. J. (1999). Affective norms for English words (ANEW): Instruction manual and affective ratings. Gainesville: University of Florida.Google Scholar
  9. Chambers, J. A., Power, K. G., & Durham, R. C. (2004). The relationship between trait vulnerability and anxiety and depressive diagnoses at long-term follow-up of Generalized Anxiety Disorder. Journal of Anxiety Disorders, 18(5), 587–607. Scholar
  10. Cherry, K. E., & LeCompte, D. C. (1999). Age and individual differences influence prospective memory. Psychology and Aging, 14(1), 60–76.Google Scholar
  11. Clarke, P. J. F., MacLeod, C., & Shirazee, N. (2008). Prepared for the worst: Readiness to acquire threat bias and susceptibility to elevate trait anxiety. Emotion, 8(1), 47–57.Google Scholar
  12. Cockburn, J., & Smith, P. T. (1994). Anxiety and errors of prospective memory among elderly people. British Journal of Psychology, 85(2), 273–282. Scholar
  13. Derakshan, N., & Ansari, T. (2007). Anxiety reduces top down attentional control: Evidence from the antisaccade task. Psychophysiology, 44, S24–S24.Google Scholar
  14. Derakshan, N., & Eysenck, M. W. (2009). Anxiety, processing efficiency, and cognitive performance. New developments from attentional control theory. European Psychologist, 14(2), 168–176. Scholar
  15. Derakshan, N., Smyth, S., & Eysenck, M. W. (2009). Effects of state anxiety on performance using a task-switching paradigm: An investigation of attentional control theory. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 16(6), 1112–1117. Scholar
  16. Dismukes, R. K. (2012). Prospective Memory in Workplace and Everyday Situations. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 21(4), 215–220. Scholar
  17. Dobbs, A. R., & Reeves, M. B. (1996). Prospective memory: More than memory prospective memory: Theory and applications (pp. 199–225). Mahwah: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Publishers.Google Scholar
  18. Einstein, G. O., & McDaniel, M. A. (1990). Normal aging and prospective memory. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 16(4), 717–726. Scholar
  19. Einstein, G. O., & McDaniel, M. A. (2005). Prospective memory: multiple retrieval processes. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 14(6), 286–290. Scholar
  20. Ellis, A. J., Beevers, C. G., & Wells, T. T. (2011). Attention allocation and incidental recognition of emotional information in dysphoria. Cognitive Therapy and Research, 35(5), 425–433. Scholar
  21. Faul, F., Erdfelder, E., Lang, A. G., & Buchner, A. (2007). G*Power 3: A flexible statistical power analysis program for the social, behavioral, and biomedical sciences. Behavior Research Methods, 39(2), 175–191.Google Scholar
  22. Harris, L. M., & Menzies, R. G. (1999). Mood and prospective memory. Memory, 7(1), 117–127. Scholar
  23. Heathcote, A., Loft, S., & Remington, R. W. (2015). Slow down and remember to remember! A delay theory of prospective memory costs. Psychological Review, 122(2), 376–410. Scholar
  24. Hobbs, R. (1990). Noise and vibration. In J. Riley (Ed.), Safety at work. London: Butterworth-Heinemann.Google Scholar
  25. Kasch, K. L., Rottenberg, J., Arnow, B. A., & Gotlib, I. H. (2002). Behavioral activation and inhibition systems and the severity and course of depression. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 111(4), 589–597. Scholar
  26. Large, B., MacLeod, C., Clarke, P. J. F., & Notebaert, L. (2016). It’s all about control: Memory bias in anxiety is restricted to threat cues that signal controllable danger. Journal of Experimental Psychopathology, 7(2), 190–204. Scholar
  27. Lissek, S., Levenson, J., Biggs, A. L., Johnson, L. L., Ameli, R., Pine, D. S., et al. (2008). Elevated fear conditioning to socially relevant unconditioned stimuli in social anxiety disorder. The American Journal of Psychiatry, 165(1), 124–132.Google Scholar
  28. Loft, S., & Remington, R. W. (2010). Prospective memory and task interference in a continuous monitoring dynamic display task. Journal of Experimental Psychology-Applied, 16(2), 145–147.Google Scholar
  29. Loft, S., & Remington, R. W. (2013). Wait a second: Brief delays in responding reduce focality effects inevent-based prospective memory. Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 66(7), 1432–1447.Google Scholar
  30. MacLeod, C., & Cohen, I. L. (1993). Anxiety and the interpretation of ambiguity: A text comprehension study. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 102(2), 238–247. Scholar
  31. MacLeod, C., & Mathews, A. (2004). Selective memory effects in anxiety disorders: An overview of research findings and their implications. In D. Reisberg & P. Hertel (Eds.), Memory and emotion (pp. 155–185). London: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  32. Maner, J. K., & Schmidt, N. B. (2006). The role of risk avoidance in anxiety. Behavior Therapy, 37(2), 181–189. Scholar
  33. Marsh, R. L., Brewer, G. A., Jameson, J. P., Cook, G. I., Amir, N., & Hicks, J. L. (2009). Threat-related processing supports prospective memory retrieval for people with obsessive tendencies. Memory, 17(6), 679–686. Scholar
  34. Marsh, R. L., & Hicks, J. L. (1998). Event-based prospective memory and executive control of working memory. Journal of Experimental Psychology-Learning Memory and Cognition, 24(2), 336–349. Scholar
  35. Marsh, R. L., Hicks, J. L., & Watson, V. (2002). The dynamics of intention retrieval and coordination of action in event-based prospective memory. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 28(4), 652–659. Scholar
  36. Martin, M., Kliegel, M., & McDaniel, M. A. (2003). The involvement of executive functions in prospective memory performance of adults. International Journal of Psychology, 38(4), 195–206. Scholar
  37. Mathews, A., & Mackintosh, B. (1998). A cognitive model of selective processing in anxiety. Cognitive Therapy and Research, 22(6), 539–560. Scholar
  38. Mathews, A., Mogg, K., May, J., & Eysenck, M. (1989). Implicit and explicit memory bias in anxiety. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 98(3), 236–240.Google Scholar
  39. Mathews, A., Richards, A., & Eysenck, M. W. (1989). Interpretation of homophones related to threat in anxiety states. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 98(1), 31–34. Scholar
  40. McDaniel, M. A., & Bugg, J. M. (2012). Memory training interventions: What has been forgotten? Journal of Applied Research in Memory and Cognition, 1(1), 45–50. Scholar
  41. McDaniel, M. A., Umanath, S., Einstein, G. O., & Waldum, E. R. (2015). Dual pathways to prospective remembering. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 9, 392–392. Scholar
  42. Mitte, K. (2008). Memory bias for threatening information in anxiety and anxiety disorders: A meta-analytic review. Psychological Bulletin, 134(6), 886–911. Scholar
  43. Mogg, K., & Bradley, B. P. (1998). A cognitive-motivational analysis of anxiety. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 36(9), 809–848. Scholar
  44. Notebaert, L., Jones, E., Clarke, P. J. F., & MacLeod, C. (2018). Trait anxiety and biased prospective memory for targets associated with negative future events—Dataset.Google Scholar
  45. Notebaert, L., Masschelein, S., Wright, B., & MacLeod, C. (2016). To risk or not to risk: Anxiety and the calibration between risk perception and danger mitigation. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 42(6), 985–995. Scholar
  46. Price, R. B., Wallace, M., Kuckertz, J. M., Amir, N., Graur, S., Cummings, L., et al. (2016). Pooled patient-level meta-analysis of children and adults completing a computer-based anxiety intervention targeting attentional bias. Clinical Psychology Review, 50, 37–49. Scholar
  47. Schnitzspahn, K. M., Stahl, C., Zeintl, M., Kaller, C. P., & Kliegel, M. (2013). The role of shifting, updating, and inhibition in prospective memory performance in young and older adults. Developmental Psychology, 49(8), 1544–1553. Scholar
  48. Scholten, M. R., van Honk, J., Aleman, A., & Kahn, R. S. (2006). Behavioral inhibition system (BIS), behavioral activation system (BAS) and schizophrenia: Relationship with psychopathology and physiology. Journal of Psychiatric Research, 40(7), 638–645. Scholar
  49. Spielberger, C. D., Gorsuch, R., Lushene, R., Vagg, P., & Jacobs, G. (1983). Manual for the State-Trait Anxiety Inventory STAI (Form Y): Self-Evaluation Questionnaire. Alto: Consulting Psychologist Press.Google Scholar
  50. Strauss, G. P., Allen, D. N., Duke, L. A., Ross, S. A., & Schwartz, J. (2008). Automatic affective processing impairments in patients with deficit syndrome schizophrenia. Schizophrenia Research, 102(1–3), 76–87. Scholar
  51. Tripp, G., Tan, S., & Milne, J. (1995). Risk perception and anxiety. New Zealand Journal of Psychology. 24(2), 37–43.Google Scholar
  52. Visu-Petra, L., Miclea, M., & Visu-Petra, G. (2013). Individual differences in anxiety and executive functioning: A multidimensional view. International Journal of Psychology, 48(4), 649–659. Scholar
  53. Vrijsen, J. N., Becker, E. S., Rinck, M., van Oostrom, I., Speckens, A., Whitmer, A., & Gotlib, I. H. (2014). Can memory bias be modified? The effects of an explicit cued-recall training in two independent samples. Cognitive Therapy and Research, 38(2), 217–225. Scholar
  54. Walter, S., & Meier, B. (2014). How important is importance for prospective memory? A review. Frontiers in Psychology, 5, 657–657. Scholar
  55. Wang, Y., Cui, J., Chan, R. C. K., Deng, Y., Shi, H., Hong, X., et al. (2009). Meta-analysis of prospective memory in schizophrenia: Nature, extent, and correlates. Schizophrenia Research, 114(1), 64–70. Scholar
  56. Zhou, F.-C., Wang, Y.-Y., Zheng, W., Zhang, Q., Ungvari, G. S., Ng, C. H., et al. (2017). Prospective memory deficits in patients with depression: A meta-analysis. Journal of Affective Disorders, 220(Supplement C), 79–85. Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Centre for the Advancement of Research on Emotion, School of Psychological ScienceThe University of Western AustraliaPerthAustralia
  2. 2.School of PsychologyCurtin UniversityPerthAustralia

Personalised recommendations