Memory bias for threatening information in anxiety and anxiety disorders: a meta-analytic review

Psychol Bull. 2008 Nov;134(6):886-911. doi: 10.1037/a0013343.


Although some theories suggest that anxious individuals selectively remember threatening stimuli, findings remain contradictory despite a considerable amount of research. A quantitative integration of 165 studies with 9,046 participants (clinical and nonclinical samples) examined whether a memory bias exists and which moderator variables influence its magnitude. Implicit memory bias was investigated in lexical decision/stimulus identification and word-stem completion paradigms; explicit memory bias was investigated in recognition and recall paradigms. Overall, effect sizes showed no significant impact of anxiety on implicit memory and recognition. Analyses indicated a memory bias for recall, whose magnitude depended on experimental study procedures like the encoding procedure or retention interval. Anxiety influenced recollection of previous experiences; anxious individuals favored threat-related information. Across all paradigms, clinical status was not significantly linked to effect sizes, indicating no qualitative difference in information processing between anxiety patients and high-anxious persons. The large discrepancy between study effects in recall and recognition indicates that future research is needed to identify moderator variables for avoidant and preferred remembering.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Affect*
  • Anxiety Disorders / psychology*
  • Fear*
  • Humans
  • Memory*