Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2012

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



First Advisor

Akira Miyake

Second Advisor

Yuko Munakata

Third Advisor

Alice Healy

Fourth Advisor

Mark Whisman


This research investigates the effects of trait worry, a subcomponent of trait anxiety, on the process of updating information in working memory (WM). A leading theory on anxiety and executive functions (attentional control theory) states that trait anxiety is not related to WM updating, but some important aspects of WM updating have not been studied in this context -- namely, the removal of irrelevant information from WM. In two studies, subjects completed simple (Study 1) and complex (Study 2) WM span tasks, questionnaires measuring trait levels of mood variables, and an updating task requiring the memorization of short lists of words and the within-trial removal of some of these items from WM. Although worry was not related to performance on any of the WM span tasks, the two studies provided the first evidence for a link between trait worry and WM updating on a deletion task. Furthermore, these results support the hypothesis that worry is related specifically to removing no longer relevant information from mind. Finally, these effects were observed solely for the trait worry component of anxiety, rather than levels of anxious arousal or comorbid levels of dysphoria. In light of these results, some aspects of attentional control theory need to be revised, especially to account for the finding that one specific aspect of WM updating, namely deletion, is affected in worry.