Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapy

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Differential Effects of Worry and Imagery After Exposure to a Stressful Stimulus: A Pilot Study

Gillian Butlera1, Adrian Wellsa1 and Hilary Dewicka1

a1 University of Oxford


Imagery appears to be associated with higher levels of anxiety than does worry. Borkovec has argued that worry could be a way of avoiding distressing imagery and the associated affect. Thus worry could suppress emotional activation, interfere with emotional processing, and contribute to the maintenance of anxiety. This hypothesis suggests that short and long-term effects of worrying after experiencing a distressing stimulus should differ from the effects of engaging in imagery. In the short term, imagery should maintain anxiety while worry should not do so, or should do so less. In the longer term, worry should be a less successful way of reducing anxiety associated with the stimulus than imagery, and should be followed by a greater number of intrusive cognitions (indicating the relative failure of emotional processing). These predictions were tested by asking subjects to worry, engage in imagery or “settle down” after watching a distressing video. The results were broadly consistent with the hypothesis. Other interpretations are also considered.


Reprint requests to Dr Gillian Butler, University of Oxford, Department of Psychiatry, Wameford Hospital, Headington, Oxford OX3 7JX, UK.

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