A team of psychologists has identified two systems used by the brain for processing information. “Systematic processing” is thought that requires effort — analyzing all the available evidence before coming to a conclusion. “Heuristic processing” is the swift response of intuition, the sort of reaction triggered by a sudden and unexpected threat.
Chronic worriers are more likely to be perfectionists, find uncertainty more unpleasant, require more evidence before making a decision, have a stronger desire for control, and feel more responsible and accountable.
These characteristics, along with being in a negative mood, have all been shown to increase systematic processing.
In the study, Suzanne Dash, Ph.D., and her colleagues suggest that extensive worrying activates the same area of the brain as systematic processing (the left frontal lobe), whereas heuristic processing is associated with the right frontal lobe.
“We tend to use systematic processing when we feel highly motivated and also when our actual confidence in the decision that we are making is not as good as we would like it to be,” Dash said.
“In other words, it is a bit like an alarm bell going off in our mind — if something is important to us, and we do not feel that we have done as good a job as we can, we are likely to use systematic processing.”
Although most people worry from time to time, for some, worry becomes a consuming and never-ending chain of negative thoughts that is very difficult to stop.
“Sometimes it is appropriate to give lots of careful thought to what might happen in an uncertain situation, such as buying a house. However, worriers give effortful, deliberative thought to issues that other people would deem to be less threatening, such as what will happen if they forget something or are not completely prepared for a meeting,” Dash said.
“There are many reasons why worriers might feel that they are not confident enough and so use systematic processing. However, being aware of two systems of information processing allows people to think about when it is appropriate to use detailed effortful processing and when it is not appropriate.”
“And with cognitive-behavioral therapy, it is possible to support individuals to manage unhelpful thoughts, such as feeling excessively responsible for a situation or needing to be in control,” Dash said.
Source: Clinical Psychology Review