Research findings point to a correlation between the concentration difficulties reported by individuals with anxiety and issues with sustained attention. Specifically, evidence suggests that these individuals struggle to effectively engage frontal cortical regions responsible for attentional control. One prominent region in this context is the dorsal lateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC), recognized for its role in actively maintaining and updating current goals—essentially, facilitating sustained attention to tasks.
Moreover, it is proposed that worry, a prevalent characteristic of anxiety disorders, may exacerbate problems with sustained attention by diverting cognitive resources away from maintaining control and directing them towards worry-related thoughts. However, a recent study introduces nuances to this understanding. It revealed that trait anxiety, as opposed to worry, was linked to a diminished activation of the DLPFC. Intriguingly, worry itself independently influenced the activity of the DLPFC, irrespective of trait anxiety. This finding suggests that worry not only coexists with but also uniquely alters the functioning of the DLPFC. Such independent alterations may provide insight into why worry is disruptive and distressing for individuals grappling with anxiety disorders.
Forster, S., Nunez Elizalde, A. O., Castle, E., & Bishop, S. J. (2015). Unraveling the anxious mind: anxiety, worry, and frontal engagement in sustained attention versus off-task processing. Cereb Cortex, 25(3), 609-618. doi:10.1093/cercor/bht248