In view of the negative impact of anxiety on working memory, we induced anxiety in 26 patients with acute stroke and 33 healthy controls, and studied how the anxiety affected their emotional reactivity and how the reactivity affected their verbal and visuospatial working memory. We compared the overall findings with those in 1 of our patients (C.B.) who had presented with an abnormally high level of state anxiety.
We gave verbal and visuospatial 1-back tasks under both neutral and anxiogenic conditions, and we compared participants’ working memory scores, self-reported levels of state anxiety, and electrodermal activity.
When comparing performance in the neutral condition, the control and patient groups exhibited disrupted verbal working memory, which was associated with greater electrodermal activity and higher state anxiety during the anxiogenic condition. Although patient C.B. also had heightened electrodermal activity during the anxiogenic condition, she experienced a significant reduction in her state anxiety. Her verbal working memory was better during the anxiogenic than the neutral condition.
Because of the phonological (subvocal speech) nature of verbal working memory, a higher level of anxious apprehension could explain the increase in state anxiety and the corresponding disruption of verbal working memory in our patient and control groups during the anxiogenic condition. C.B.’s lower state anxiety and selective improvement in verbal working memory during the anxiogenic condition suggest that she felt less anxious apprehension.