The Effects of Anxiety Disorders on Response Speed

Tien Kolodziej, “The Effects of Anxiety Disorders on Response Speed”
Mentors: Han Joo Lee & Salahadin Lotfi, Psychology

It has been shown that the brain slows down in many reaction time tasks when people commit an error compared to when they correctly respond. This Post Error Slowing (PES) phenomenon is thought to re-evaluate attentional resources and readjust response execution properly to make a correct response. Anxiety symptoms are shown to be associated with general reaction time slowness, however, whether it is related to PES is still debatable. This study aims to shed light on whether anxious individuals diagnosed with General Anxiety Disorders (GAD) will have longer reaction times and increased PES compared to non-anxious individuals. This study is part of an ongoing experiment which recruited 59 college students (male =20, GAD = 19) and collected data on demographic information, anxiety symptoms and other psychological questions. All participants completed a 15-min the Eriksen Flanker Task to examine reaction time and cognitive processes accuracy. This task requires participants to click in the direction of a central arrow, while the flanking arrows point the same direction (congruent) or point in the opposite direction (incongruent). Participants had similar reaction times on the easier (congruent) trials (GADmean=360ms, SD=10; Controlmean=358ms, SD=4). However, the anxious individuals struggled significantly on the harder, cognitively taxing (incongruent) trials (GADmean=396ms, SD=12; Controlmean=378ms, SD=7). Additionally, we found that individuals in the GAD group are faster on the PES compared to the control (GADmean=334ms, SD=8; Controlmean=348ms, SD=5). This study is important because it supports previous evidence showing that anxiety is particularly associated with general reaction time slowness in cognitively demanding conditions. This result supports the idea that anxiety allocates excessive attentional resources to irrelevant information, therefore, reducing available resources to sufficiently respond to the task at hand. This study also raises the connection between anxiety and a reduced PES, indicating that anxiety might speed up the readjusting process after an error.


  1. This research is extremely important because it begins to measure how people are slow to react when they are in general anxiety situations. The inability to make quick decisions after a stressful situation is apparent after this study. Great job.

  2. Very interesting. So the hypothesis was that anxiety would result in slower responses due to unnecessary distraction by scanning the environment, whereas the results show that ‘anxious’ people responded faster. Could it be that anxiety is characterized by an overactive – and therefore hyperperceptive, and primed-to-go – cognitive state that led to the faster times? Cool stuff.

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