As we indicated at the beginning of this chapter, worry is typically a functional state that allows us to plan options and review possibilities in threatening situations. However, worry is also the central psychological process implicated in generalised anxiety problems and so we have postponed our review of the worry literature until now. Precise definitions of worry have been few; an example is Borkovec, Robinson, Pruzinsky, and DePree's suggestion that:
Worry is a chain of thoughts and images, negatively affect-laden and relatively uncontrollable. The worry process represents an attempt to engage in mental problem-solving on an issue whose outcome is uncertain but contains the possibility of one or more negative outcomes. Consequently, worry relates closely to fear processes. (1983, p. 9)
A more functional definition is offered by Tallis, Eysenck, and Mathews (1991a): Worry is an involuntary process—initiated by a subjective appraisal of imminent threat—whereby negative thoughts and images repeatedly gain entry into awareness. The primary function of the worry process is to prompt active coping, directed at reducing negative uncertainties.
A crucial distinction between these two definitions, and one that is borne out by the respective theoretical models of the sets of authors, is that Borkovec et al. suggest that worry is designed to solve problems which the individual faces; in contrast, Tallis et al. argue that worry is some kind of "alarm system" which makes the individual aware of an appraised future threat. The activation of such an alarm system, according to Tallis, may or may not result in consequent problem-solving behaviour.
In this section, we review some of the research that has considered what the domains of worry might be; that is, what areas of life do people worry about. We shall then discuss some examples of the information-processing research which has been carried out on worry. Finally, we shall discuss some of the principal theoretical models of worry.
Was this article helpful?