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Image_1_Lower Levels of Directed Exploration and Reflective Thinking Are Associated With Greater Anxiety and Depression.TIF (8.78 MB)

Image_1_Lower Levels of Directed Exploration and Reflective Thinking Are Associated With Greater Anxiety and Depression.TIF

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posted on 2022-01-07, 04:29 authored by Ryan Smith, Samuel Taylor, Robert C. Wilson, Anne E. Chuning, Michelle R. Persich, Siyu Wang, William D. S. Killgore

Anxiety and depression are often associated with strong beliefs that entering specific situations will lead to aversive outcomes – even when these situations are objectively safe and avoiding them reduces well-being. A possible mechanism underlying this maladaptive avoidance behavior is a failure to reflect on: (1) appropriate levels of uncertainty about the situation, and (2) how this uncertainty could be reduced by seeking further information (i.e., exploration). To test this hypothesis, we asked a community sample of 416 individuals to complete measures of reflective cognition, exploration, and symptoms of anxiety and depression. Consistent with our hypotheses, we found significant associations between each of these measures in expected directions (i.e., positive relationships between reflective cognition and strategic information-seeking behavior or “directed exploration”, and negative relationships between these measures and anxiety/depression symptoms). Further analyses suggested that the relationship between directed exploration and depression/anxiety was due in part to an ambiguity aversion promoting exploration in conditions where information-seeking was not beneficial (as opposed to only being due to under-exploration when more information would aid future choices). In contrast, reflectiveness was associated with greater exploration in appropriate settings and separately accounted for differences in reaction times, decision noise, and choice accuracy in expected directions. These results shed light on the mechanisms underlying information-seeking behavior and how they may contribute to symptoms of emotional disorders. They also highlight the potential clinical relevance of individual differences in reflectiveness and exploration and should motivate future research on their possible contributions to vulnerability and/or maintenance of affective disorders.

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    Frontiers in Psychiatry

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