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Paradoxical State Anxiety and Working Memory in a Patient with Acute Stroke

Monfort, Vincent PhD*; Bernardin, Florent MSc*; Grosdemange, Antoine MSc*; Ducrocq, Xavier MD, PhD; Mathieu, Philippe MSc; Bolmont, Benoît PhD*

Cognitive and Behavioral Neurology: December 2013 - Volume 26 - Issue 4 - p 195–207
doi: 10.1097/WNN.0000000000000010
Case Reports

Objective: 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.

Methods: 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.

Results: 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.

Conclusions: 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.

*Université de Lorraine, LCOMS (EA 7306), Metz, France

Service de Neurologie, Hôpital Central, CHU Nancy, Nancy, France

The authors declare no conflicts of interest.

Reprints: Antoine Grosdemange, MSc, Université de Lorraine, LCOMS (EA 7306), Campus Bridoux, Rue du Général Delestraint, 57070 Metz, France (e-mail:

Received April 30, 2011

Accepted October 30, 2013

© 2013 by Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.