Sometimes when reading articles on psychology, you might come across the term "executive functioning" or "executive control." For instance, you might have heard that someone suffers from "impaired executive functioning" or has "poor executive control。" But what does that mean? And how does it relate to anxiety?

执行功能是人为内存系统的关键部分,称为工作记忆。虽然短期内存和长期内存用于在几天,几周,年或甚至数十年中维持几乎无限的数量信息,但工作记忆的容量有限,只能拥有您在A的信息给予时刻1。Put differently, short-term and long-term memory can be thought of as shelves where you can set information for longer periods of time to be retrieved later. Working memory, though, functions more like your hands. It allows you to hold and examine particular items, but it can only hold so many things before it needs to drop a few items.

By The Numbers

心理学家经常说,人们可以持有”magic number 7 +/- 2" objects in working memory2, and though recent work shows that the actual number varies widely depending on circumstances, 7+/-2 still stands as a good, rough estimate3。But what happens when you try to hold more than this number of items at once? You forget what you were trying to "hold", sometimes forever. For instance, if you are trying to remember an important phone number, but suddenly, a friend asks you to perform some simple math, you will likely forget the phone number completely. It is as if you had your hands full of objects, but then someone tried to add one more thing, causing you to drop what you were holding. Thus, given the limited nature of working memory, it is essential that it focus on only the things that are absolutely necessary and ignore irrelevant information.

Enter executive functioning. Executive functioning is thought to play a role in a number of important processes related to cognitive control1。For instance, it seems to play a role in helping individuals regulate emotions through inhibiting unwanted or inappropriate emotional responses4。关于工作记忆,执行功能是让思维能够关注所需信息,同时抑制无趣或无关的信息。换句话说,它是允许我们“控制”我们注意的机制。返回电话号码示例,具有强大的执行功能的人(或“关注的强烈执行控制”)将能够忽视他们的朋友要求数学辅助,并将其关注关注关键的电话号码。但是,有人受到损害的行政控制,例如具有严重关注缺陷/多动障碍的人(ADHD)5, would struggle to ignore the irrelevant math problem and most likely forget the phone number – no matter how important that number might have been.

The Anxiety Connection

Interestingly, a growing body of research suggests that individuals who have high trait, or baseline,焦虑also suffer from deficits in executive control. For instance, a number of studies have found that high anxiety individuals, such as those with118bet金博宝 (GAD),有忽视无关信息的能力下降,特别是当该信息威胁时6, and greater difficulty switching attention between tasks7。In fact, "difficulty concentrating" is one of the primary symptoms of GAD8。Though researchers are still examining exactly how anxiety affects executive functioning, the most prominent theory poses that anxiety specifically interferes with an aspect of executive functioning known as attentional control9。This interference makes concentrating and switching attention from task to task more difficult for individuals high in anxiety.

为什么这种关系存在吗?一个潜在的explanation is that, perhaps, very anxious individuals have less "space" in working memory due to their worries, which disrupts their attentional control. It is like high anxiety individuals are constantly carrying around extra information in their mind (i.e., their worries) meaning that they have less space to flexibly handle new things. To use the hand metaphor described above, it would be as if you had to carry around an extra object everywhere you went, making it more difficult to pick up or examine new objects. Consequently, high anxiety people may be more easily distracted by new information and have a harder time switching their attention between competing sources of information (e.g., two different people talking simultaneously).



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1. Baddeley, A. D. (2001). Is working memory still working?.American Psychologist,56.(11), 851.

2. Miller, G. A. (1956). The magical number seven, plus or minus two: Some limits on our capacity for processing information.心理评论,63.(2), 81.

3. Baddeley, A. (1994). The Magical Number Seven: Still Magic after All These Years?.Psychological Review,101(2), 353-56.

4. Hofmann, W., Schmeichel, B. J., & Baddeley, A. D. (2012). Executive functions and self-regulation.Trends in Cognitive Sciences,16(3),174-180。

5. Barkley, R. A. (1997). Behavioral inhibition, sustained attention, and executive functions: constructing a unifying theory of ADHD.Psychological Bulletin,121(1),65。

6. Bar-Haim,Y.,Lamy,D.,Pergamin,L.,Bakermans-Kranenburg,M. J.,&Van Ijzendoorn,M. H.(2007)。威胁相关的注意力偏见焦虑和饥饿的人:荟萃分析研究。Psychological Bulletin,133(1), 1.

7. Ansari, T. L., Derakshan, N., & Richards, A. (2008). Effects of anxiety on task switching: Evidence from the mixed antisaccade task.Cognitive, Affective, & Behavioral Neuroscience,8(3),229-238。

8. American Psychiatric Association. (2013).Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders(5th ed.). Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing.

9. Eysenck, M. W., Derakshan, N., Santos, R., & Calvo, M. G. (2007). Anxiety and cognitive performance: attentional control theory.Emotion,7(2),336。

Date of original publication:

Updated: August 08, 2017