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Identifying what’s behind anxiety and depression

Research awardPsyIMPACT programme

Funding period2014 - 2017

InstitutionKing's College London

LocationUnited Kingdom

Our researchers are tackling the thought processes which make people worry and focus on failure in depression and anxiety.

The project

Negative thinking can be a big feature of anxiety and depression.

In anxiety, excessive worrying is common. In depression, rumination – ongoing thinking about bad past experiences – is a frequent symptom. Both can stop cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and other treatments from working.   

But while we know the impact that negative thinking can have, we know less about what causes it. We don’t know whether the causes are the same in anxiety and depression, either.

So Colette and her colleagues at King’s College London are using an innovative computer-based technique – Cognitive Bias Modification (CBM) – to study and target the underlying mechanisms behind negative thoughts.

The process

Cognitive Bias Modification (CBM) targets recurring negative thought patterns. Our researchers will use CBM to understand more about the specific thought processes underlying…

  • The tendency to automatically think negatively
  • The tendency to verbalise negative thoughts
  • Problems moving attention away from negative thoughts.

By doing this, the team will gain a clearer picture of:

  • How negative thoughts affect anxiety and depression
  • Whether targeting them could help to reduce anxiety and depression. 

The potential

Colette’s investigation is focused on computer-based techniques, so if it finds that targeting specific thought processes can reduce worry and rumination, the impact could be far-reaching.

The group’s hope is that this research will ultimately lead to more effective therapies that are available online – meaning more people can find better support, wherever they are.

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