Various studies on memory bias in anxiety disorders have been conducted in the recent years.
Important distinctions among the findings on memory biases between the types of anxiety disorders and between the different memory – task types used for the same anxiety disorders were found. Besides, memory – tasks among studies can vary in numerous ways such as being either explicit tasks involving recognition, free recall and cued recall or implicit tasks like word stem completion. Furthermore, the chosen stimuli can be distinct across studies in matters of being verbal or non-verbal (Lundh et al. (1996b). In spite of everything most studies on memory bias in anxiety disorders are in fact carried out with semantic stimuli.
Taking a closer look at some studies examining the memory bias in diverse anxiety disorders, remarkably more memory bias was found in individuals with panic disorder. Individuals with panic disorder for instance displayed implicit memory bias for threat information and recalled panic-related words, threat-related words and bodily threat information better (Amir, McNally, Riemann, and Clements, 1996; Becker, Margraf & Rinck, 1994; Cloitre & Liebowitz, 1991; Cloitre, Shear, Cancienne & Zeitlin, 1994; McNally, Foa & Donnell, 1989). Moreover, memory bias was also discovered in individuals with post-traumatic stress disorder, who presented greater explicit and implicit memory bias for information related to trauma (Zeitlin & McNally, 1991). Similar results were found by Mathews et al. (1989) for patients with general anxiety disorder describing an implicit memory bias for threat. Most studies results related to memory bias were found within individuals with anxiety disorders, but no significant difference was found in contrast to the control group.
While according to some studies no substantial memory bias related to threat information was found for generalized anxiety disorder (Mathews, Mogg, May & Eysenck, 1989; Mogg, Gardiner, Stavrou & Golombok, 1992; Mogg, Mathews & Weinman, 1987), several studies still found implicit memory biases towards threatening words in patients with generalized anxiety disorder (MacLeod and McLaughlin, 1995; Mathews, Mogg, May and Eysenck, 1989a).
Although there are a lot of studies for anxiety disorders with regard on memory biases, just a few researchers examined the memory bias for social anxiety, probably because in previous studies finding any memory bias was quite complex by virtue of the assessment strategies plus the outcomes between and within the test groups and as well because most studies failed to demonstrate a memory bias successfully. Moreover some studies demonstrated contradictory outcomes. So, for example in contrast to the findings of agoraphobics’ selective memory bias towards phobic related material by Nunn et al. (1984), Pickles et al. (1988) failed to find any difference in recalling phobic related information between agoraphobics and control group.
However, in studies of social anxiety disorder, which is the subject of this study, in fact no meaningful findings of social threat related memory bias was found at all (Cloitre, Cancienne, Heimberg, Holt and Liebowitz, 1995; Rapee, McCallum, Melville, Ravenscroft and Rodney, 1994). Lund et al. (1996b) managed to bring a new viewpoint to this area by pulling of a contradictory result for memory bias in individuals with social anxiety towards critical faces which established a contrast to the failed attempts of earlier researches to find such a memory bias for social anxiety (Rapee et al., 1994; Cloitre et al., 1995).
Although there are some studies examining memory bias in social anxiety disorder, there are not enough studies that examine the memory bias with regard to the role of working memory so far. In order to give a better inside into this topic this study will investigate the memory bias of socially anxious individuals once again but this time with regard to the role of working memory.With the intention of creating a better understanding of social anxiety and the role of working memory, it’s best to start with their definition. In social anxiety, individuals share the fear of potential threats that may arise from strangers or social environments and usually avoid them (American Psychiatric Association, 2013). Working memory describes the process which keeps the mind engaged while another involved charge is undertaken (Baddeley, 2010).
Judah, Grant, Lechner and Mills (2013) implied a correlation between working memory and threat related information in socially anxious individuals. Their study demonstrated individuals with social anxiety who showed increased attention for threat, in this case disgust faces, while working memory was active and disengaged attention without the presence of working memory load (Judah, Grant, Lechner and Mills, 2013). Furthermore Booth, Mackintosh and Sharma (2016) showed that the absence of working memory load allows attention to be taken from potentially threat content while a high working memory load makes the distraction of attention inevitable which supports the findings of Judah et al. (2013). In addition, it has been found that an administrative control, such as a high working memory load, creates attention bias and operational bias for information based on emotional content (Booth, Mackintosh ve Sharma, 2016). Moreover, contemporary researchers also discovered that individuals with generalized social anxiety showed better working memory capacity performance for threat stimuli (Amir and Bomyea, 2011). Taking the outcomes of these previous studies into account, this study will especially make use of the link between memory bias in anxious individuals and working memory (e.g. Judah, Grant, Lechner and Mills, 2013) for examining any memory bias in socially anxious participants. This study took earlier studies assessment methods as a base (e.g.Mathews et al., 1989) in order to measure and compare the memory biases between participants with high levels of social anxiety and the control group with a word list consisting of positive, neutral and social threats and physical threats including words. Thus, the activation of the working memory built the manipulation of this study as an independent variable for both groups. The aim of this study was to examine whether there was a difference in memory bias among individuals with high levels of social anxiety and individuals with low levels of social anxiety in remembering social threat words when their working memories were activated. Cognitive biases, related to attention and memory in anxiety disorders, have already been investigated. Although anomalies were found a lot in many anxiety disorders, there is no such obvious evidence for social anxiety. Therefore, any positive finding regarding to social anxiety and memory bias will construct a significantly contribution to the literature. This research aims to examine whether there is a memory bias for threatening words in individuals with high levels of social anxiety by using the effect of working memory on social anxiety as a manipulation factor. This study can give us new perspectives on cognitive aspects especially of socially anxious persons by examining the relation between working memory and memory bias of individuals with high level of social anxiety and the control group. In the field of clinical psychology, it may also provide better treatment options to reduce the symptoms of socially anxious individuals in terms of therapy.