Date of Award
Master of Science (MS)
Anxiety disorders are a prevalent mental health issue that affects millions of Americans. Individuals who suffer from anxiety tend to be behaviorally withdrawn or inhibited. More specifically, previous research has shown an inverse relationship between symptoms of anxiety and impulsivity. However, this research is mixed, as it has been found that anxiety is present in impulse control disorders. Therefore, the purpose of this study was to further explore the relationship between anxiety and impulsivity. This was done by inducing anxiety in two different studies that both incorporated the context of social interactions, in order to see their effect on impulsive responding. The social contexts that were examined included the situation of being socially ostracized (social exclusion), and the other incorporated the act of giving a public speech (social performance). In the first experiment, ostracism was induced with the Cyberball task. Additionally, neural brain-wave activity was examined using electroencephalogram (EEG). The second experiment induced anxiety through the performance-task of giving a speech. Both experiments also collected measures of perceived emotional childhood invalidation to further examine the influence these interactions may have on impulsive responding and anxiety. Impulsivity was examined in both experiments with the flanker attention task as was viewed on a spectrum, with slower responding indicating inhibition and faster responding indicating impulsivity. Twenty-eight undergraduate students from the University of South Carolina Aiken participated in experiment one and thirty-three participants in experiment two. In experiment 1, it was found that ostracized individuals responded faster and less accurate on the incongruent trials of the flanker task, indicating an increase in impulsive behavior. Also, perceived childhood emotional invalidation was related to facets of trait impulsivity. No differences were found between groups for the EEG data. In experiment 2, participants did feel more anxious after giving a speech, however there were no significant differences between accuracy and response time on the flanker task when compared to controls. Collectively, these findings suggest that social exclusion may have an impact on impulsivity and may reflect a person’s desire to reintegrate into their social group. On the other hand, it appears performance anxiety engages different processes that don’t result in increased impulsiveness, but rather controlled inhibition. Further investigation into the way our social environments play a role in the relationship between anxiety and impulsivity may be an important factor in the discrepancy in current literature regarding this relationship. Ultimately, further research on this relationship may lead to prevention or intervention aimed at decreasing maladaptive forms of impulsivity.
Cuonzo, Brigette, "The Effects of Ostracism and Performance Anxiety on Impulsivity" (2018). USC Aiken Psychology Theses. 30.