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Encephale. 1995 Sep-Oct;21(5):597-607.

[Cognitive experimental approach to anxiety disorders].

[Article in French]

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Service de Psychiatrie adulte, Hôpital Necker, Paris.


Cognitive psychology is proposing a functional model to explain the mental organisation leading to emotional disorders. Among these disorders, anxiety spectrum represents a domain in which this model seems to be interesting for an efficient and comprehensive approach of the pathology. Number of behavioral or cognitive psychotherapeutic methods are relating to these cognitive references, but the theorical concepts of cognitive "shemata" or cognitive "processes" evoked to describe mental functioning in anxiety need an experimental approach for a better rational understanding. Cognitive function as perception, attention or memory can be explored in this domaine in an efficient way, allowing a more precise study of each stage of information processing. The cognitive model proposed in the psychopathology of anxiety suggests that anxious subjects are characterized by biases in processing of emotionally valenced information. This hypothesis suggests functional interference in information processing in these subjects, leading to an anxious response to the most of different stimuli. Experimental approach permit to explore this hypothesis, using many tasks for testing different cognitive dysfunction evoked in the anxious cognitive organisation. Impairments revealed in anxiety disorders seem to result from specific biases in threat-related information processing, involving several stages of cognitive processes. Semantic interference, attentional bias, implicit memory bias and priming effect are the most often disorders observed in anxious pathology, like simple phobia, generalised anxiety, panic disorder or post-traumatic stress disorder. These results suggest a top-down organisation of information processing in anxious subjects, who tend to detect, perceive and label many situations as threatening experience. The processes of reasoning and elaboration are consequently impaired in their adaptative function to threat, leading to the anxious response observed in clinical condition. The cognitive, behavioral and emotional components of this anxious reaction maintain the stressful experience for the subject, in which the self cognitive competence remain pathologically decreased. Cognitive psychology proposes an interesting model for the understanding of anxiety, in a domain in which subjectivity could benefit from an experimental approach.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 400 WORDS)

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