A Cognitive Model of Pathological Worry in Children and Adolescents: A Systematic Review

Clin Child Fam Psychol Rev. 2020 Jun;23(2):229-249. doi: 10.1007/s10567-020-00311-7.


Worry is common in children and adolescents, yet some youth experience excessive worries that persist over time and cause significant distress. Whilst the literature on worry and generalised anxiety disorder (GAD) in adults is well established, relatively less is known about the cognitive mechanisms underlying child and adolescent worry. An influential cognitive model of adult pathological worry (Hirsch and Matthews in Behav Res Therapy 50:636-646, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.brat.2012.06.007, 2012) proposes that negative information-processing biases, reduced executive functions, and verbal worry are critical in the aetiology of GAD in adults. The current systematic review investigated whether this cognitive model of worry could be extended to understand child and adolescent worry. Following a systematic search of the literature and screening for eligibility, 30 studies were identified. Evidence indicates that negative information-processing biases and reduced executive functions play an important role in worry and GAD in children and adolescents. However, evidence that children and adolescents experience verbal worry is inconclusive. Building upon Hirsch and Matthews' cognitive model (Behav Res Therapy 50:636-646, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.brat.2012.06.007, 2012), we propose a model of child and adolescent worry to provide a guiding framework for future research. We conclude that cognitive models of worry should incorporate a developmental framework in order to provide greater insight into the mechanisms uniquely associated with worry in children and adolescents and help to identify the cognitive processes to target for early interventions and treatments.

Keywords: Adolescents; Children; Cognitive model; GAD; Worry.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Anxiety / physiopathology*
  • Child
  • Humans
  • Models, Psychological*