Examining the Effects of Cognitive Load on the Relationship Between Anxiety and Cognitive Function

Amie J. Smith, Thompson Rivers University

Abstract

Anxiety can adversely impact our cognitive functions, mainly working memory and attention. However, studies have found that working memory can act as a modulator of the effects of anxiety on cognitive performance, suggesting that individuals with lower working memory may experience more adverse effects of anxiety. This study aims to investigate the relationship between cognitive function and anxiety, specifically, by examining whether older adults with lower cognitive performance also experience high anxiety levels and whether the adverse effects of anxiety are due to a shortage of neural resources in these individuals, by increasing cognitive load. Young adults (18 - 25 years of age) and older adults (> 65 years of age) completed a demographic survey, and anxiety and mood questionnaires (DASS, STAI-6). Participants also took part in 3 cognitive tasks consisting of a 2 N-back, 3 N-back, and a dual-task (Corsi block/digit span), with varying cognitive loads, each followed by a cognitive effort scale. Our results will likely show distinct cognitive performance between groups demonstrating differing cognitive abilities and anxiety levels. Uniquely, we will be able to examine whether older adults become more vulnerable to performance impairments due to higher anxiety and particularly, due to lack of cognitive resources to counteract its effects, seen in high cognitive load conditions. This research will help provide a better understanding of the interactions between anxiety and cognitive function in older adults. The findings stemming from this research have the potential to help researchers and clinicians differentiate between cognitive performance influenced by anxiety and performance that is influenced by age-related cognitive decline.

 

Examining the Effects of Cognitive Load on the Relationship Between Anxiety and Cognitive Function

Anxiety can adversely impact our cognitive functions, mainly working memory and attention. However, studies have found that working memory can act as a modulator of the effects of anxiety on cognitive performance, suggesting that individuals with lower working memory may experience more adverse effects of anxiety. This study aims to investigate the relationship between cognitive function and anxiety, specifically, by examining whether older adults with lower cognitive performance also experience high anxiety levels and whether the adverse effects of anxiety are due to a shortage of neural resources in these individuals, by increasing cognitive load. Young adults (18 - 25 years of age) and older adults (> 65 years of age) completed a demographic survey, and anxiety and mood questionnaires (DASS, STAI-6). Participants also took part in 3 cognitive tasks consisting of a 2 N-back, 3 N-back, and a dual-task (Corsi block/digit span), with varying cognitive loads, each followed by a cognitive effort scale. Our results will likely show distinct cognitive performance between groups demonstrating differing cognitive abilities and anxiety levels. Uniquely, we will be able to examine whether older adults become more vulnerable to performance impairments due to higher anxiety and particularly, due to lack of cognitive resources to counteract its effects, seen in high cognitive load conditions. This research will help provide a better understanding of the interactions between anxiety and cognitive function in older adults. The findings stemming from this research have the potential to help researchers and clinicians differentiate between cognitive performance influenced by anxiety and performance that is influenced by age-related cognitive decline.