Skip to main content

Anticipatory anxiety and risk perception


This study tested the prediction that anxiety, arising from anticipation of a stressful examination (state anxiety), would be associated with an inflation of subjective risk in judgments of negative events related to oneself. The subjective probability of pleasant and unpleasant events was rated on two occasions, 1 month and 1 day before the examination date. Increases in anticipatory anxiety as the examination approached were associated with increased subjective risk of examination failure, while the more stable personality trait of anxiety was associated with perceived risk of all self-referred negative events whether or not they related to examinations. These results were taken as providing general support for a cognitive view of anxiety, in which a relationship exists between state anxiety and the accessibility of information relating to personal threat, while trait anxiety relates to the extent or range of such personally threatening information in memory.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.


  • Beck, A. T. (1976).Cognitive therapy and the emotional disorders. New York: International Universities Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Bower, G. H. (1981). Mood and memory.American Psychologist, 36 129–148.

    Google Scholar 

  • Bower, G. H. (1983). Affect and cognition.Philosophical transactions of the Royal Society, London, B302 387–402.

    Google Scholar 

  • Braier, J. (1982).Cognitive appraisal of risk: Heuristics and biases. Unpublished master's thesis, University of Surrey.

  • Butler, G., & Mathews, A. (1983). Cognitive processes in anxiety.Advances in Behaviour Research and Therapy, 5 51–62.

    Google Scholar 

  • Carroll, J. S. (1978). The effect of imagining an event on expectations for the event; an interpretation in terms of the availability heuristic.Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 14 88–96.

    Google Scholar 

  • Gregory, W. L., Cialdini, R. B., & Carpenter, K. M. (1982). Self-relevant scenarios as mediators in likelihood estimates and compliance: Does imagining make it so?Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 43 89–99.

    Google Scholar 

  • Harrison, A. J. (1984).Hypnotic mood induction and subjective judgment of risk. Unpublished bachelor's thesis, University of London.

  • Johnson, E. J., & Tversky, A. (1983). Affect, generalization and the perception of risk.Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 45 20–31.

    Google Scholar 

  • Kahneman, D., Slovic, P., & Tversky, A. (1982).Judgment under uncertainty: Heuristics and biases. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Kendall, P. C., Finch, A. J., Auerbach, S. M., Hooke, J. F., & Mikulka, P. J. (1976). The State-Trait Inventory: A systematic evaluation.Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 44 406–412.

    Google Scholar 

  • Lichtenstein, S., Slovic, P., Fischoff, B., Layman, M., & Combs, B. (1978). Judged frequency of lethal events.Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Learning and Memory, 4 551–578.

    Google Scholar 

  • Mathews, A., & MacLeod, C. (1985). Selective processing of threat cues in anxiety states.Behaviour Research and Therapy, 23 563–570.

    Google Scholar 

  • Spielberger, C. D., Gorsuch, R. L., & Lushene, R. E. (1970).Manual for the State-Trait Anxiety Inventory. Palo Alto: Consulting Psychologists Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Wine, J. D. (1980). Cognitive-attentional theory of test anxiety. In I. G. Sarason (Ed.),Test anxiety: Theory research and complications. Hillsdale, New Jersey: Erlbaum.

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Additional information

This work was supported by grants from the Medical Research Council U.K. to both authors. We would like to thank Rebecca Sawtell for finding and interviewing the student subjects, and for ensuring an unusually low dropout rate.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Butler, G., Mathews, A. Anticipatory anxiety and risk perception. Cogn Ther Res 11, 551–565 (1987).

Download citation

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:

Key words

  • anxiety
  • subjective probability
  • cognitive processes