Anxious Prospects: Determining Cognitive Processes Underlying Biased Risk Preferences in Anxiety, Allison Yang, UG '23 (3959046)
One prominent symptom of anxiety is exaggerated threat appraisal, which is an overestimation of the likelihood and extent of harm. Researchers have aimed to understand what underlies the real cause of exaggerated threat appraisal and how it can be operationalized and measured in the laboratory. Using laboratory behavioral economic studies of decision making under risk, researchers have discovered that, as previously hypothesized, anxious subjects show risk averse choices. However, it is unclear if exaggerated threat appraisal in patients with anxiety is produced by distorted decision weighting of probability estimates, risk aversion, or both. To understand why this behavior occurs, we can use prospect theory, which explains net risk attitude arising from several different factors, including the curvature in the marginal utility of monetary gain and loss, attitude towards loss relative to gain, and distortions in judgements of subjective probability. So far, self-reported anxiety measures and choices over risky and certain gambles were collected from subjects, and gamble decisions were regressed on anxiety to determine the relationship between anxiety levels of participants and overall risk preference. In the future, prospect theory parameters such as utility curvature and probability curvature will then be estimated, and the regression of these parameters with anxiety levels allows us to determine which cognitive aspect of decision-making best characterizes pessimistic appraisals in anxiety. Discerning the cognitive processes behind exaggerated threat appraisal in patients with anxiety informs treatment strategies and helps with the development of more targeted therapies.