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Intrusive images of a distressing future: links between prospective mental imagery, generalized anxiety and a tendency to suppress emotional experience in youth

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Original languageEnglish
Article number103508
JournalBehaviour Research and Therapy
Early online date1 Nov 2019
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2020

King's Authors


Distressing intrusive images commonly occur in anxiety. Worry may function to reduce the emotional power of intrusive imagery, but this also prevents emotional processing. As worry is a future-orientated process, suppression of intrusive future imagery could be particularly pertinent to generalized anxiety. Here, we investigate whether youth high in symptoms of generalized anxiety (compared to depression and social anxiety) experience greater impact of future imagery (more intrusions, hyperarousal and avoidance), and whether this relationship varies as a function of the tendency to suppress or reappraise emotional experience. These relationships are important in adolescence, when generalized anxiety commonly begins and emotional regulation strategies develop. Participants (n = 352, age 11–16) completed measures of symptomatology, the impact of prospective personally-relevant imagery (IFES) and emotional regulation strategies. IFES scores correlated with an established measure of prospective imagery. Higher IFES scores were uniquely associated with more symptoms of generalized anxiety and depression, but not with social anxiety. A tendency to supress emotion was related to higher IFES scores and moderated the relationship between generalized anxiety and IFES (but not between depression and IFES). This provides initial impetus to develop novel approaches to investigate and intervene cognitively with negative prospective imagery in adolescent generalized anxiety.

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