Worry spreads: Interpersonal transfer of problem-related anxiety

Cognition and Emotion 26 (3):462-479 (2012)
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This paper distinguishes processes potentially contributing to interpersonal anxiety transfer, including object-directed social appraisal, empathic worry, and anxiety contagion, and reviews evidence for their operation. We argue that these anxiety-transfer processes may be exploited strategically when attempting to regulate relationship partners’ emotion. More generally, anxiety may serve as either a warning signal to other people about threat (alerting function) or an appeal for emotional support or practical help (comfort-seeking function). Tensions between these two interpersonal functions may account for mutually incongruent interpersonal responses to expressed anxiety, including mistargeted interpersonal regulation attempts. Because worry waxes and wanes over time as a function of other people's ongoing reactions, interpersonal interventions may help to alleviate some of its maladaptive consequences.



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