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The Impact of Thought Speed and Variability on Psychological State and Threat Perception: Further Exploration of the Theory of Mental Motion

Abstract

Thought speed and variability are purportedly common features of specific psychological states, such as mania and anxiety. The present study explored the independent and combinational influence of these variables upon condition-specific symptoms and affective state, as proposed by Pronin and Jacobs’ (Perspect Psychol Sci, 3:461–485, 2008) theory of mental motion. A general population sample was recruited online (N = 263). Participants completed a thought speed and variability manipulation task, inducing a combination of fast/slow and varied/repetitive thought. Change in mania and anxiety symptoms was assessed through direct self-reported symptom levels and indirect, processing bias assessment (threat interpretation). Results indicated that fast and varied thought independently increased self-reported mania symptoms. Affect was significantly less positive and more negative during slow thought. No change in anxiety symptoms or threat interpretation was found between manipulation conditions. No evidence for the proposed combinational influence of speed and variability was found. Implications and avenues for therapeutic intervention are discussed.

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Fig. 1

Notes

  1. Three additional measures respectively assessing trait vulnerability towards mania (Hypomanic Personality Scale; Eckblad and Chapman 1986), anxiety (State-Trait Inventory for Cognitive and Somatic Anxiety; Grös et al. 2007), and cognitive fusion (Cognitive Fusion Questionnaire; Gillanders et al. 2014) were also employed at baseline. However, they are not reported here as they pertain to a research question outside of those specified in the present study.

  2. Participant time on webpage ≥138.6 s (i.e., 90 % of the shortest manipulation video).

  3. Where Levene’s test was significant in ANCOVA, square-root data transformation was applied. This action was taken for single-item PA. Transformation exacerbated rather than resolved the violation for PA and did not improve model fit. Consequently, untransformed data were utilised in this instance. Furthermore, the single-item NA ANCOVA and repeated-measures ANOVA for slow thought conditions demonstrated evidence of poorer model fit, which was not resolvable by transformation. Consequently, to improve reliability, PA and NA results should be considered with reference to related study findings (e.g., Pronin and Jacobs 2008; Yang et al. 2014).

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Acknowledgments

We are grateful to Dr Emily Pronin for providing materials and guidance to allow the replication of her experimental thought speed and variability manipulation protocol.

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Correspondence to Benjamin A. Rosser.

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Conflicts of Interest

This research was conducted as part of the first author’s doctorate in Clinical Psychology. Ben Rosser and Kim Wright declare that they have no conflict of interest.

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All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

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Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.

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This article does not contain any studies with animals performed by any of the authors.

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Rosser, B.A., Wright, K.A. The Impact of Thought Speed and Variability on Psychological State and Threat Perception: Further Exploration of the Theory of Mental Motion. Cogn Ther Res 40, 453–467 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10608-016-9753-5

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Keywords

  • Thought speed
  • Thought variability
  • Mental motion
  • Mania
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Threat
  • Affect
  • Processing bias