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The Nature of Trait Anxiety: Cognitive

and Biological Vulnerab~lity
Manuel G. Calvo 1 and Antonio Cano-Vindel 2
University of La Laguna, Spain, and 2Complutense University of Madrid, Spain

This paper examines the nature of trait anxiety using self-report and anxiety, but only slightly with actual behavioral anxiety (011/y gaze
objective meas ures of biological, behavioral, and cognitive characteristics avoidance) and physiologica/ arousal (only heart rate recovery). There
as predictors in mu/tiple regression analyses. Trait anxiety was associated was high stability in relationships over a 3-month period. These results
with seif-reported psychological maladjustment and psychosomatic dis- favor a cognitive, rather than a biological, conceptualization of trait anx-
orders, but not with actual physical capacih; and skills, cardiovascular iety. It is suggested that a cognitive bias to focus on interna/ threat-related
fttness, or biochemical parameters. Under social-evaluative stress, trait stimuli is a vulnerability factor in trait anxiety that predisposes to anx-
anxiety was associated with self-reported cognitive and somatic state iety disorders.

Keywords: Trait anxiety, evaluative stress, cognitive biases, bio/ogical, behaviora/ anxiety, physiological arousal.

There is considerable evidence that patients suffering tion of a psychobiological entity for trait anxiety is con-
from most of the anxiety disorders have elevated levels sistent with an evolutionary perspective, according to
of trait anxiety (Clark, Watson, & Mineka, 1994; Zinbarg which the anxiety response is part of an evolved defense
& Barlow, 1996). This suggests continuitybetweenhigh mechanism that helps organisms to keep away from
trait anxiety in normals and anxiety disorders in pa- dangerous situations (hman, 1996; Marks & Nesse,
tients. Continuity has been accounted for mainly in 1994). Asan adaptive response protecting from survival
terms of cognitive vulnerability: High trait anxiety and threats, anxiety should mobilize most organismic re-
the anxiety disorders reflect the same underlying pro- sources (metabolic, behavioral, and mental) in a coordi-
cesses, which are concerned with hypervigilance to nated manner (to provide energy and prepare for vigor-
threat-related information (e . g., Mathews & MacLeod, ous and potentially hazardous action). Evolutionary his-
1994; Eysenck, 1997). However, there is also the possibil- tory across the species must have cemented this trait as
ity that vulnerability is concerned with biological factors an integrated functional capacity of the organisms.
(Gray, 1982; Gray & McNaughton, 1996). The aim of this There are basically two theoretical approaches ex-
study is to examine the nature of trait anxiety in order plaining the nature of trait anxiety: neurophysiological
to uncover dispositional factors that may constitute vul- and cognitive. Neurophysiological theories of trait anxi-
nerability to anxiety disorders. A wide range of cogni- ety have tried to substantiate its biological nature in
tive, biological and behavioral variables were measured terms of constitutional characteristics in the functioning
in normal subjects differing in trait anxiety. Their rela- of the central nervous system. According to H. J. Eysenck
tive contribution to trait anxiety is estimated.
Spielberger, Gorsuch, and Lushene (1970) defined
trait anxiety as relatively stable proneness to react with Manuel G. Calvo is Professor of Psychology at La Laguna University,
Spain. Since receiving his PhD in 1982, he has been concerned with
subjective feelings of tension and apprehension, and
research on anxiety, efficiency, and cognitive biases.
heightened autonomic nervous system activity. In virtu-
Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to
ally all theories of personality, trait anxiety or neuroti-
Manuel G. Calvo, Departamento de Psicologia Cognitiva, Universi-
cism are essential structural components (Zuckerman, dad de La Laguna, E-38205 Tenerife, Spain (tel. +34 22 317514, fax
Kuhlman, Joireman, Teta, & Kraft, 1993). The assump- +34 22 317461, E-mail

European Psychologist, Vol. 2, No. 4, December 1997, pp. 301-312

1997 Hogrefe & Huber Publishers 301
Manuel G. Calvo and Antonio Cano-Vindel

(1967), differences between those high and low in neurot- processed and how they are interpreted. One of the main
icism can be accounted far "in terms of differential assumptions of this cognitiveapproach is that "the most
thresholds far hypothalamic activity" (p. 237), with high important function of anxiety is to facilitate early detec-
neuroticism being associated with greater responsivity of tion of signs of threat or impending danger in poten-
the sympathetic nervous system. Somewhat similar tially threatening environments" (Eysenck, 1992, p. 42-
structures were identified by Gray (1982; Gray & 43). Accordingly, if threat is to be detected quick1y, in
McNaughton, 1996): Susceptibility to anxiety would de- arder to mobilize anticipatory defensive responses, then
pend on a greater reactivity of the behavioral inhibition the attentional system needs to be selective, favoring
system, which mainly consists of the septohippocampal threat-related stimuli over neutral stimuli, and ambigu-
system; this reactivity makes high-anxiety individuals ous stimuli or situations should be preferentially inter-
especially sensitive to signals of punishment, nonreward, preted as threatening. In high trait anxiety this mecha-
and novelty. In a further extension of this approach, neu- nism would have a low activation threshold. This anal-
rochemical research has identified neurotransmitters, ysis is also consistent with the evolutionary perspective
such as norepinephrine, serotonin, and gamma-amino- on the adaptive function of anxiety (hman, 1996).
butyric acid (GABA), acting on the above-mentioned and Therefore, high trait anxiety can be characterized by a
related brain areas, which may mediate the sensitivity to hypervigilance bias to threat, that is, a bias in selective
signals of punishment in high-anxiety individuals (Pi, attention to threat-related stirnuli and the interpretation
Cross, & Nagy, 1994; Zuckerman, 1995). of ambiguous stimuli as threatening.
Though there is sorne empirical support far neuro- Considerable experimental evidence directly sup-
biological theories of trait anxiety, mainly coming from porting the cognitive theory of trait anxiety has been
the effects of anti-anxiety drugs and neurological lesions obtained with regard to externa! sources of information
in animals, inconsistent data ha ve also been faund in hu- (see reviews by Eysenck, 1992; MacLeod, 1996; Mathews
mans. Direct measures of individual differences in the & MacLeod, 1994; Mineka & Sutton, 1992). This evi-
level of activity in the visceral brain ar the behavioral dence is concerned both with high trait anxiety in nor-
inhibition system have not been obtained. Instead, indi- mal individuals (e . g., Calvo & Castillo, 1997; Calvo,
rect physiological measures such as EEG, heart rate, and Eysenck, & Estevez, 1994; Mogg, Bradley, & Hallowell,
skin conductance have been used. According to Fahren- 1994; MacLeod & Cohen, 1993), and with anxiety disor-
berg (1992), "research has failed to substantiate the phys- ders in patients (e. g., Eysenck, Mogg, May, Richards, &
iological correlates that are assumed far emotionality Mathews, 1991; Mathews, May, Mogg, & Eysenck, 1990).
and trait anxiety" (p. 212). Sorne studies have found However, in a further refinement and extension of the
higher physiological reactivity far high- than far low- cognitive theory of trait anxiety, Eysenck (1997) has re-
anxiety individuals (Beidel, 1988; Beidel, Turner, & cently argued that the attentional and interpretative bi-
Dancu, 1985; see Bernstein, Borkovec, & Coles, 1986, p ases in trait anxiety are also concemed with interna/
. 373), but most of them have not (Baggett, Saab, & sources of information. More specifically, high-trait-anx-
Carver, 1996; Craske & Craig, 1984; Dua & King, 1987; iety individuals would show preferential attention to
Holroyd, Westbrook, Wolf, & Badhom, 1978; Steptoe & their own physiological activity, behavior, and thoughts,
Vogele, 1992; Walsh, Eysenck, Wilding, & Valentine, and would tend to magnify their threateningness.
1994). Further indirect evidence from motor control stud- The present study aims to provide data relevant to
ies is predominantly negative ar inconsistent (Craske & both the biological and the cognitive theories of trait
Craig, 1984; Derakshan & Eysenck, 1996; Gilbert, 1991; anxiety. In principie, both' approaches are compatible
Lamb, 1978) regarding differences between high- and and complementary: Trait anxiety may have a biological
low-anxiety persons. Therefore, there is weak evidence nature rooted in neurophysiological and neurochemical
of objective physiological and behavioral differences as a reactivity patterns, as well as a cognitive nature charac-
function of trait anxiety, which is not consistent with a terized by cognitive biases. However, a contrast between
neurobiological conceptualization. Most support comes them can be made by examining objective (or actual)
from self-report measures (see Fahrenberg, 1992). and subjective (or self-reported) responses. In general,
Cognitive theories of trait anxiety (Eysenck, 1992; objective physiological and behavioral differences, but
1997; MacLeod, 1996; Mathews, 1993; Williams, Watts, not subjective differences, between persons high and
MacLeod, & Mathews, 1997) argue that the nature of low in trait anxiety would be favorable to a biological
trait anxiety is concerned with systematic biases in infar- conceptualization of trait anxiety, whereas the reverse
mation processing, i . e., which stimuli are preferentially would be consistent with a cognitive theory. More
European Psychologist, Vol. 2, No. 4, December 1997, pp. 301-312
302 1997 Hogrefe & Huber Publishers
The Nature of Trait Anxiety

specifically, in this study several groups of measures pated for course credit. All of them were assessed on
have been collected in order to make the contrast. trait anxiety, psychological measures, self-report biolog-
First, psychological and biological measures related to ical measures, and physical capacity and skills mea-
anxiety were assessed under both nonstress and stress sures. Eighty seven of them (54 females, 33 males) were
(social-evaluative) conditions, in order to determine randomly selected to be assessed on cardiovascular and
whether trait anxiety is associated with stable and/ or biochemical measures, and to participate in a session
transitory characteristics. where emotional reactivity and performance were
Second, the three areas of manifestation of anxiety un- gauged.
der stress, i. e., physiological, motor, and cognitive
(Bernstein et al., 1986), have been explored. In addi-
tion, performance on tasks susceptible of being influ- Measures
enced by cognitive or physiological anxiety was exam-
ined, as a validation approach. Apart from trait anxiety, there were four types of vari-
Third, both objective and self-report measures have ables: psychological, biological, emotional reactivity un-
der stress, and task performance under stress. Trait anx-
been obtained.
iety, as well as the other psychological measures and the
biological measures, was measured twice (about 90 days
This study represents an extension over previous simi-
apart). Emotional reactivity and performance under
lar research in several respects.
stress were determined only once (at the end of the 90-
First, it increases the number, range, and contrasts of
day period).
Second, although it is a correlational study, the relative
contribution of several variables to trait anxiety has Trait anxiety. Trait anxiety was assessed using the trait
been estimated by means of multiple regression anal- scale of the State-Trait Anxiety Inventory (ST Al; Spiel-
ysis. Instead of using arbitrary cut-offs to separate two berger, Gorsuch & Lushene, 1982). This inventory has 20
extreme groups of high- and low-anxiety persons items; the minimum score is 20 and the maximum is 80.
(which often makes comparisons between different Reliability for the Spanish version is 0.88 (Cronbach's a).
studies difficult), we have preferred keeping a 166- In the current sample, mean trait anxiety for females was
subject sample intact, with normal distributions in ev- 45.5 at the first assessment (SO= 10.6) and 45.1 (SO =
ery variable involved in the relationships with trait 10.1) at the second assessment (about 90 days la ter); for
anxiety. males the figures were 37.9 (SO= 7.3) and 38.5 (SO= 8.4),
Third, participants in this study were normal under- respectively.
graduates with varying levels of anxiety. Nevertheless,
the fact that trait anxiety in similar samples (and even Psychological (Self-report) Measures. Satisfaction with life
in this one) has proved to impair performance and/ or was assessed with the Satisfaction With Life scale (SWL;
efficiency under stress conditions, ensures that we are Diener, Emmons, Larsen, & Griffin, 1985), general
dealing with significant levels of anxiety. health was gauged with the General Health Question-
Fourth, both females and males ha ve been included in naire (GHQ; Goldberg, 1978), self-efficacy was mea-
order to see whether trait anxiety has a similar nature sured with the Perceived Self-Efficacy test (PSE; Palen-
in both sexes. zuela, 1991), depression was measured with the Beck
Finally, trait anxiety and other measures have been Oepression lnventory (BOi; Beck, 1978), and mood was
gathered twice, with a 3-month interval, in order to measured by the tension, anger, fatigue, depression,
determine the temporal consistency of trait anxiety vigor, and confusion scales of the Profile of Mood Sta tes
characteristics. Inventory (POMS; Lorr & McNair, 1984), with the in-
struction for participants to respond "how have you
been feeling in the last week."
Biological Measures. There were four types of biological
Self-reported psychosomatic symptoms: (1) sleep disor-
One hundred and sixty-six undergraduates (118 fe- ders (e . g., insomnia), (2) gastrointestinal (e . g., diar-
males, 48 males; age: M = 21.2 years, SD = 2.1) partici- rhea), (3) cardiovascular (e. g., palpitations), (4) respi-
European Psychologist, Vol. 2, No. 4, December 1997, pp. 301-312
1997 Hogrefe & Huber Publishers 303
Manuel G. Calvo and Antonio Cano-Vindel

ratory (e. g., colds), (5) vitality (e. g., tiredness), and (6) with eigenvalues > 1.5 accounted for a total of 60% of
other disorders (e. g., headaches, etc.). Participants the variance. The correlation between the cognitive
were asked to indicate, "to what extent have you felt and the somatic factor was .66. The internal consisten-
each of these symptoms in the last month?" For each cies for each subscale were .88 and .86, respectively.
of 25 items there were five possible alternative re- Behavioral anxiety was evaluated according to the
sponses: (O) never; (1) doubtful; (2) sometimes; (3) of- method described by Lamb (1978) (see also Bernstein
ten; (4) every day. The internal consistency of the scale et al., 1986). Behavioral anxiety was decomposed into
was .79 (Cronbach's a). four indices: motor, facial, verbal and social anxiety.
Physical capacity and skills in nine standard tasks There were seven components of the motor anxiety
(Blazquez, 1990): (1) time taken to sprint 60 meters, (2) measure: gratuitous torso movements (trunk contor-
maximal reach-back flexibility test (in cm), (3) jump- tions), nail biting, hair touching, face touching, object
forward test (distance in cm), (4) number of sit-ups grabbing/ touching, cloth or body touching, gratu-
within 60 seconds; (5) throwing a 3-kg (females) ora itous head movements; five facial anxiety components:
5-kg (males) ball test (distance in cm), (6) dynamic lip licking or biting, swallowing, throat clearing, sighs,
equilibrium (walking on a 4.5-cm wide gymnastics grimaces or facial tics; four elements of verbal anxiety:
bar; meters within 60 seconds), (7) bodly ability test speech blocks, "ah ... " sounds during speech, pet
(obstacle running in a field; time in seconds), (8) bodily words, and avoidance comments; and one index of
ability with moving object test (running while kicking social anxiety: cumulative avoidance of gaze from the
a ball; in seconds), and (9) distance running test camera while speaking (Farabee, Hokom, Ramsey, &
(1200 m for females and 1600 m formales; in seconds). Cole, 1993; Baggett et al., 1996). All the indices were
Cardiovascular fitness: resting heart rate, resting systolic determined from video-taped records by two inde-
and diastolic pressure, time running on the treadmill pendent raters who observed the frequency of their
test, heart rate, and systolic and diastolic pressure at occurrence in two series (5 minutes each) of twenty
maximum effort on the treadmill test, estimated met- 15-s intervals. One series corresponded to the antici-
abolic equivalents and participants' V02 max were de- pation (of tasks) phase, and the other to the speech
termined using the standard Bruce' s protocol (De- phase (see Procedure). The inter-rater reliability was
Busk, 1990). A Quinton-65 treadmill and a Fukuda .98.
Cardimax-66 electrocardiograph were used for this Physiological arousal. Heart rate (HR) and tonic skin re-
purpose. sistance level (henceforth referred to as skin resistance
Biochemical measures: levels of lymphocytes, erythro- or SR) were continuously recorded during a prebase-
cytes, leukocytes, hemoglobin, hematocrit, thrombo- line adaptation phase (until they became stable; 9 min-
cytes, glucose, urea, uric acid, creatinine, VDL-choles- utes on average), a baseline phase (3 minutes), an an-
terol, triglycerides, aspartate-aminotransferase, and ticipation phase (5 minutes), a tasks phase (10 minutes;
alanine-aminotransferase were determined from with a 5-minute speech subphase within), anda recov-
blood samples, and analyzed using a Hitachi-717 au- ery phase (5 minutes). Recording took place in a tem-
tomatic analyzer anda Technicon H-1 system. perature and humidity controlled laboratory, which
was noise-shielded and dimly illuminated. The partic-
Emotional Reactivity under Evaluative Stress. There were ipants were seated in a comfortable armchair. HR is
three groups of state anxiety measures: assumed to reflect arousal directly (i. e., the higher the
Self-reported cognitive and somatic state anxiety was as- HR, the greater the anxiety), whereas SR is an inverse
sessed by means of the CSAS (Cognitive and Somatic index (i. e., the higher the SR, the lower the anxiety).
Anxiety Scale; Calvo, Alamo, & Ramos, 1990). The
CSAS is a 20-item scale containing 10 statements con- HR was monitored with a photoelectric finger pulse
cerned with cognitive anxiety (e. g., "I am worrying transducer (Biociber, Model CI450) attached to the distal
about my performance") and 10 statements concerned phalanx of the middle finger on the participants' non-
with somatic anxiety (e. g., "My hands feel moist"). dominant hand, connected to a Letica preamplifier
The statements were rated on a five-point scale rang- (Module LE135, Cardioback Biofeedback, Scientific In-
ing from not at all (1) to very much (5). It was con- struments). SR was recorded bipolarly with BSR-SC
structed after factorial analyses of items from several (Biociber) Ag-AgCl electrodes (surface area = 1 cm 2) at-
similar scales (e. g., the CSAQ, by Schwartz, Davidson, tached to the thenar (C6) and hypothenar (C8) emi-
& Goleman, 1978; see Calvo et al., 1990). Two factors nences of the subject's nondominant hand, with 0.05 M
European Psyclwlogist, Vol. 2, No. 4, December 1997, pp. 301-312
304 1997 Hogrefe & Huber Publishers
The Nature of Trait Anxiety

NaCl electrolyte. SR was determined using a constant Procedure

current generator, connected to a Letica preamplifier
(Module LE138, Dermal Biofeedback, Scientific Instru- The psychological measures, trait anxiety, and the self-
ments). The HR and SR data were relayed online toan reported psychosomatic symptoms were collected in a
ALR-486 computer, in which the signals were digitized, classroom under non-stress conditions. In order to facil-
itate honest responses, subjects were asked to use an
and the data were averaged on a second-by-second basis
anonymous code in the questionnaires, instead of their
for subsequent analysis.
names. The physical capacity and skills tests were per-
formed at the University Sports Center (University of La
Performance under Evaluative Stress. There were indices Laguna). The cardiovascular and biochemical measures
of: were collected at the University and Candelaria Hospi-
Cognitive performance in a 5-minute mental arithmetic tals (Tenerife).
task, which consisted of checking sums in the Primary Emotional reactivity and performance under stress
Mental Abilities test (PMA; Thurstone & Thurstone, were assessed in a laboratory room, individually for
1979). The number of correct responses were recorded. each subject, according to the following sequence of
Psychomotor performance in a fine motor task, the phases. First, after the general instructions to the partic-
Steadiness test, which required that subjects hold a ipants (about the safety of the procedure, the conve-
metal-tipped stylus in an apparatus with nine progres- nience of keeping still and relaxed), and the attachment
sively smaller holes (Model 32011, Lafayette Instru- of the electrodes, the physiological adaptation and sta-
ments) without touching the sides. Subjects' arm and bilization period began. Next, baseline heart rate and
hand were suspended in the air (i. e., not leaning on skin resistance were determined. Subsequently, the an-
the table or the body) while holding the stylus. An ticipation phase of evaluative stress started with the
electric impulse counter (Model 58022, Lafayette In- placement of the camera in front of the participant, the
struments) recorded the errors (number of times the ego-threat instructions, and the participant's prepara-
stylus touched the sides). There was one 20-second tion of the speech for 5 minutes. During this phase, mo-
practice trial for the largest hole, and a 20-second trial tor and facial anxiety were recorded. Next, a tasks stage
for each of the eight remaining holes, each followed by began: Participants performed the steadiness test and
a 10-second rest interval (total time: 4.5 minutes). the speech. During the speech, motor, facial, verbal, and
Linguistic performance, measured by the amount of social anxiety were recorded. There was a rest interval
time talking during 5 minutes of an impromptu of 2 minutes between the tasks. Subsequently, in the re-
speech, which was required from each participant on covery phase, the camera was removed, and partici-
a different topic about popular issues (e. g., "Drugs"). pants were told that there would be no more tasks and
asked to relax. Finally, they were requested to fill in the
CSAS, in order to measure the cognitive and somatic
Social-Evaluative Stress
anxiety that they were feeling during the tasks phase.
In order to simulate a social-evaluative stress condition,
participants were presented with ego-threat instructions
in writing, and asked to perform two aptitude tasks in
front of a video camera. Ego-threat instructions and Preliminary Analyses and Criteria far Multiple Regression
video-taping started at the beginning of the anticipation
phase (see Procedure), which also included a 5-minute The effectiveness of the stress manipulation was as-
interval for the preparation of a speech. The ego-threat sessed in a 2 (gender: males vs females) x 4 (phase: base-
instructions (Calvo, Ramos, & Estevez, 1992) indicated line vs anticipation vs speech vs recovery) ANOVA on
that the purpose of the experiment was to assess linguis- HR and SR seores. Main effects of phase for HR, F(3, 255)
tic ability and psychomotor skill, along with partici- = 17.49, p < .0001, and SR, F(3, 255) = 15.10, p < .0001,
pants' physiological responses to measure their resis- along with post-hoc Newman-Keuls t tests (p < .05), re-
tance to stress. In addition, participants were told that vealed an increase in HR and a decrease in SR from base-
their individual results on the tasks would be evaluated line to anticipation and speech phases, anda decrease in
and compared with those of other students. They were HR from anticipation to recovery. Therefore, the manip-
also instructed to perform at their best. Thus, they were ulation was effective. Nevertheless, SR took more time
led to anticipate evaluation of their competence. to recover than HR.
European Psychologist, Vol. 2, No. 4, December 1997, pp. 301-312
1997 Hogrefe & Huber Publishers 305
Manuel G. Calvo and Antonio Cano-Vindel

Table 1
Pearson correlations between trait anxiety and psychological self-report variables, and regression statistics (~. sr 2 , p, R,
R2 , adjusted R2 , and F) of trait anxiety on gender and psychological variables, corresponding to the first and the second
assessments (of ali variables).
Psychological Correlations with
variables Trait Anxiety ~ sil
First Second First Second First Second
Satisfaction (SWL) -.66*** -.61 *** -.23*** -.36*** .02 .06
General health (GHQ) -.75*** -.69*** -.21 * -.15* .02 .01
Self-efficacy (PSE) -.49*** -.56*** -.12* -.22* .01 .03
Depression (BDI) .64*** .58*** .07 .15 .00 .01
Tension (POMS) .59*** .55*** .11 .08 .00 .00
Anger (POMS) .54*** .50*** .04 .03 .00 .00
Fatigue (POMS) .57*** .51 *** .01 .04 .00 .00
Depression (POMS) .69*** .52*** .28* .15 .01 .00
Vigor (POMS) -.49*** -.45*** -.06 -.09 .00 .00
Confusion (POMS) .59*** .54*** .12 .14 .00 .01
Gender -.16*** -.25*** .02 .05
First: R = .84; R2 = .71; adj. R2 = .69; F(11, 153) = 34.19, p < .0001
Second: R = .89; R2 = .80; adj. R2 = .77; F(11, 153) = 34.75, p < .0001
*p < .05; **p < .01; ***p < .001

Table 2
Pearson correlations between trait anxiety and biological variables, and regression statistics (~. sr2 , p, R, R2, adjusted
R2, and F) of trait anxiety on gender and biological variables, corresponding to the first and the second assessments
(of all variables).
Biological Correlations with
variables Trait Anxiety ~ sil
First Second First Second First Second
Psychosomatic symptoms
Sleep disorders .40*** .50*** .22* .23* .03 .03
Gastrointestinal .45*** .49*** .09 .15 .01 .01
Cardiovascular .18 .24* .04 .08 .00 .00
Respiratory .46*** .53*** .20* .26** .02 .04
Vitality -.15 -.04 .08 .07 .00 .00
Other .37*** .46*** .14 .14 .01 .02
Gender -.17* -.22** .03 .04
First: R = .57; R2 = .33; adj. R2 = .28; F(7, 157) = 6.81, p < .0001.
Second: R = .66; R2 = .43; adj. R2 = .40; F(7, 157) = 11.04, p < .0001.
Physical capacity and ski/Is: No significant linear equation
Cardiovascular measures: No significant linear equation
Biochemica/ measures: No significant linear equation
*p < .05; **p < .01; ***p < .001

Pairwise correlations between trait anxiety and the As there were significant correlations between anx-
psychological, biological, emotional reactivity, and task iety and a lot of the variables, standard multiple regres-
performance variables were computed, both on the first sion analyses were performed, in arder to remove re-
and the second (90 days later) assessment. There was a dundancy and examine the best components associated
highly significant correlation between both assessments with anxiety. Trait anxiety was the criterion or depend-
of trait anxiety (r(162) = .84, p < .0001). ent variable. The predidors consisted of the variables
European Psychologist, Vol. 2, No. 4, December 1997, pp. 301-312
306 1997 Hogrefe & Huber Publishers
The Nature of Trait Anxiety

Table 3
Pearson correlations between trait anxiety and emotional reactivity variables under stress, and regression statistics (~,
sr 2, p, R, R2, adjusted R2, and F) of trait anxiety on gender and emotional reactivity variables, corresponding to the first
and the second assessments (of trait anxiety; about 90 days befare the ern9tional reactivity measures).
Emotional reactivity Correlations with
variables Trait Anxiety ~ sr2
First Second First Second First Second
Self-reported anxiety
Cognitive .42*** .44*** .32** .29* .04 .04
Somatic .34*** .38*** .05 .13 .00 .01
Gender -.22** -.16* .04 .02
First: R = .47; R2 = .22; adj. R2 = .20; F(3, 82) = 11.66, p < .0001
Second: R = .48; R2 = .23; adj. R2 = .21; F(3, 82) = 11.60, p < .0001
Behavioral anxiety during the anticipation phase: No significant linear equation
Behavioral anxiety during the speech phase
Facial tics .22* .24* .11 .10 .01 .01
Touchobjects .22* .24* .17 .16 .02 .02
Touch clothes/body -.22* .03 -.02 .03 .00 .00
Avoidance comments .20 .23* .02 .09 .00 .01
Gaze avoidance .33** .38*** .27* .34 .06 .10
Gender -.27* -.21 * .06 .04
First: R = .47; R2 = .22; adj. R2 = .15; F(6, 77) = 3.18, p < .01
Second: R = .50; R2 = .25; adj. R2 = .18; F(6, 77) = 5.64, p < .01
Physio/ogica/ measures
Baseline heart rate .22 * .22 * -.21 -.21 .02 .02
Anticipation heart rate .35** .33** .32 .27 .04 .02
Recovery heart rate .40*** .43*** .29* .36** .05 .08
Gender -.27** -.21 * .07 .04
First: R = .52; R2 = .27; adj. R2 = .23; F(4, 79) = 7.05, p < .0001
Second: R = .51; R2 = .26; adj. R2 = .22; F(4, 79) = 6.88, p < .0001
*p < .05; **p < .01; ***p < .001.
Note. Emotional reactivity variables not correlated significantly with trait anxiety either far males or females are omitted.

which had shown significant pairwise correlations with In order to interpret the analyses, the following sta-
anxiety (see Tables 1-4). These predictors were grouped tistics from the tables are especially useful in standard
according to the category of measures to which they be- regression (see Tabachnick & Fidell, 1989): (a) The
longed. Severa! groups of predictors were used: (a) psy- squared multiple correlation, or R2, which is the propor-
chological variables (Table 1), (b) self-repotted psycho- tion of the variation in the dependent variable that is
somatic symptoms and objective measures of biological accounted for the best linear combination of all predic-
health (Table 2), (e) self-reported cognitive and somatic tors (joint and unique contributions); (b) the beta coeffi-
state anxiety under stress (Table 3), (d) behavioral anxi- cients, expressing the standardized slope or estimate of
ety during speech (Table 3), (e) physiological reactivity. the change in .the dependent variable with each unit of
under stress (Table 3), and (f) performance under stress change in the predictor; (e) and the squared semipartial
(Table 4). Gender (females coded as O, males as 1) was correlation, or sr2, which indicates the unique contribu-
included as a predictor in ali of the regression analyses, tion of the predictor to R2, after the contribution of the
because of its correlation with anxiety (r = -.33, p < .001) other predictors in the equation is taken out. Therefore,
and sorne of the predictors. The analyses were per- the difference between R2 and the sum of the sr2 repre-
formed separately for the first and the second assess- sents the variance in the dependent variable that ali the
ments. predictors jointly contribute.
European Psychologist, Vol. 2, No. 4, December 1997, pp. 301-312
1997 Hogrefe & Huber Publishers 307
Manuel G. Calvo and Antonio Cano-Vindel

Table 4
Pearson correlations between trait anxiety and performance under stress, and regression statistics (B. sr. p, R. R2 , adjusted
R2, and F) of trait anxiety on gender and performance, corresponding to the first (first) and the second (second) assess-
ments (of trait anxiety; about 90 days befare the performance measures)...
Performance Correlations with
variables Trait Anxiety ~ sr2
First Second First Second First Second
Mental arithmetic -.04 .01 .05 .09 .00 .00
Steadiness test(errors) .20* .23* .29** .35*** .08 .12
Speaking time -.31 ** -.36*** -.29** -.37*** .08 .13
Gender -.34** -.30** .10 .08
First: R = .50; R2 = .25; adj. R2 = .22; F(4, 81) = 6.90, p < .0001
Second: R = .55; R2 = .30; adj. R2 = .27; F(4, 81) = 8.76, p < .0001
*p < .05; **p < .01; ***p < .001

Multiple Regression Analyses Emotional Reactivity Variables (see Table 3). There was
common variability between trait anxiety and self-re-
Psychological Variables (see Table 1). The combined predic- ported state anxiety under stress on both the first (22%)
tors accounted far 71 % or 80% of the variance in trait and the second (23%) assessments (both, p < .0001).
anxiety in the first and the second assessments, respec- However, only the cognitive component of state anxiety
tively (both, p < .0001). The unique contribution of the showed a genuine relationship to trait anxiety (4% of the
variables was low, and only satisfaction with life (2% vs variance), but not the somatic component. In any case,
6%), general health (2% vs 1%), and self-efficacy (1 % vs most of the variance (14% vs 16%) was shared between
3%) showed significant (negative) relationships on both both components and gender.
occasions, and mild transitory depression (1%), as mea- There were no significant correlations between trait
sured by the POMS, only on the first assessment. This anxiety and behavioral anxiety during the anticipation
implies that most of the variance in trait anxiety was phase in the stress condition, and therefare no regression
accounted far by shared (including gender) contribu- analyses were perfanned. In contrast, behavioral anxi-
tions (63% on both assessments). ety during the delivery of the speech was significantly
related to trait anxiety (22% vs 25% of the variance in the
Biological Variables (see Table 2). Only the self-reported first and the second assessments, respectively; both, p <
psychosomatic symptoms were used as predictors in a .01). However, only one index of behavioral anxiety
multiple regression analysis. No regression analyses showed a significant unique contribution: Avoidance of
were computed far groups of variables in which no mea- gaze contact with the camera was related to trait anxiety
sure was significantly correlated with anxiety, i. e., car- on both occasions (6% vs 11 % of the variance), which
diovascular fitness and physical capacity and skills. Far means that high-trait-anxiety participants made less eye
biochemical measures, although there were sorne signif- contact with the camera during speech than those low in
icant pairwise correlations with anxiety (i. e., choles- trai t-anxiety.'
terol, alanine-aminotransferase, hematocrit, and triglyc- Baseline heart rate, the increase in the first 2 minutes
erides were negatively related to trait anxiety), the gen- of the (5-minute) anticipation phase (anticipation- base-
eral linear equation was not significant; therefare, line), and the decrease in HR in the last two minutes of
regression analyses are not included. The psychoso- the (5-min) recovery phase (recovery - baseline) were
matic symptoms in combination contributed 33% and included as predictors. The combined physiological
43% to trait anxiety variability in the first and the second measures accounted far 27% and 26% of the variance in
assessments, respectively (both, p < .0001). There was the first and the second assessments, respectively (both,
only a significant unique contribution far sleep disor- p < .0001). However, only HR anticipation (4%) and re-
ders (3% on both assessments) and respiratory problems covery (5%) in the first assessment, and only HR recov-
(2% vs 4%). The shared contributions (including gender) ery (8%) in the second assessment, had significant
were 23% vs 29%, respectively. unique contributions to trait anxiety. The HR recovery
European Psychologist, Vol. 2, No. 4, December 1997, pp. 301-312
308 1997 Hogrefe & Huber Publishers
The Nature of Trait Anxiety

effect means that the higher the trait anxiety, the slower than a biological, explar;1.ation of trait anxiety. Trait anx-
the recovery. With regard to skin resistance, no signifi- iety was related to self-reported negative (or absence of
cant relationship with trait anxiety was observed. positive) health, both at the psychological and biological
(perceived psychosomatic symptoms) levels. This is en-
Performance Variables under Stress (Table 4). Accurate re- tirely consis,tE'.nt'with previous research, according to
sponses in mental arithmetic, errors in the steadiness which trait anxiety and neuroticism were related to sev-
test, and speaking time were included as predictors. Al- eral indices of negative affectivity (e. g., Watson & Clark,
together, 25% and 30% (first and second assessment; 1984) and to somatic complaints (Costa & McCrae,
both, p < .0001) of the variability in trait anxiety was as
1987), assessed by questionnaires. In contrast, objec-
predicted. There were significant unique contributions tive bological measures were not related to trait anxiety,
of performance in the steadiness test (8% vs 12%) and except far a few biochemical parameters (normally indi-
speaking time (8% vs 12%). cating better health in high-anxiety participants), which
do not constitute a meaningful pattem and are inconsis-
tent across both sexes and assessment times. Neverthe-
Discussion less, it can be argued that the physical capacity, cardio-
vascular fitness, and biochemical indicators which have
To summarize the majar results of this study: been used provide only indirect evidence of neurophys-
There was a highly significant relationship between iological activity. Even if these measures do not directly
trait anxiety and self-reported measures of both psy- reflect the processes occurring in structures such as
chological health and psychosomatic disorders (par- the"visceral brain" (H. J. Eysenck, 1967) or the septohip-
ticularly sleep and respiratory problems). pocampal system (Gray, 1982; Gray & McNaughton,
In contrast, there were no objective differences in bio- 1996), or in neurotransmitters (Pi et al., 1994; Zucker-
logical characteristics, including physical capacity and man, 1995), they undoubtedly represent important fac-
skills, cardiovascular fitness, and biochemical param- tors concemed with biological deficits or dysfunctions.
eters, as a function of trait anxiety. With respect to reactivity under psychological
Under stress conditions, trait anxiety was associated stress, the fact that self-reported cognitive and somatic
with elevated self-reported cognitive and somatic dis- state anxiety were related to trait anxiety, whereas there
tress, but not with behavioral anxiety (except far were only slight relationships with actual behavioral
avoidance of eye contact with the camera during and physiological anxiety, is also favorable to a cognitive
speech) nor with physiological arousal (except far conceptualization of trait anxiety. High self-reported
slow heart rate recovery). distress in high-trait-anxiety individuals is a common
Under stress conditions, trait anxiety was character- research finding (e. g., Baggett et al., 1996; Calvo et al.,
ized by reduced performance both in a fine psychomo- 1990). Previous research data conceming actual behav-
tor task (more errors) and in speech (less speaking ioral anxiety are much less consistent (Gilbert, 1991),
time). and more often than not they show weak or no differ-
The reliability of the findings is strengthened by the ences as a function of trait anxiety (Craske & Craig, 1984;
stability of trait anxiety and, most importantly, the Lamb, 1978). In accordance with our findings, Segrin
consistency of the relationships between trait anxiety and Kinney (1995) observed similar social skills in high-
and the other variables across the two assessments in and low-anxiety participants under social-evaluative
the 3-month period. conditions, though the former showed a tendency to
Finally, there was a consistent pattem far both sexes, negatively misperceive their own behavioral skills. The
except far sorne biochemical parameters (cholesterol, only lioteworthy exception regarding behavioral mea-
triglycerides, and alanine-aminotransferase were neg- sures is gaze avoidance: In our own study, as well as in
atively related to trait anxiety only in males), behav- previous research, trait anxiety was associated with this
ioral indices (avoidance comments and touching ob- measure of social anxiety (Baggett et al., 1996; Farabee et
jects were related to trait anxiety only in females), and al., 1993). With respect to physiological indicators, there
performance measures (motor errors were related to is sorne evidence consistent with a biological explana-
trait anxiety only in females). tion. Trait anxiety was associated with slower recovery
from stress, although this only applied to the heart rate,
Regarding relatively stable characteristics in nonstress and not to skin resistance. Most previous studies found
conditions, the evidence supports a cognitive, rather no relationship between trait anxiety and resting physi-
European Psychologist, Vol. 2, No. 4, December 1997, pp. 301-312
1997 Hogrefe & Huber Publishers 309
Manuel G. Calvo and Antonio Cano-Vindel

ological activity, or reactivity during anticipated or ac- potentially threatening information coming from one-
tual stress (see Fahrenberg, 1992; Baggett et al., 1996; self (or from the environment) play a central role in the
Dua & King, 1987; Holroyd et al., 1978; Steptoe & Vogele, definition of trait anxiety.
1992; Walsh et al., 1994). Nevertheless, on-task habitua- This cognitive view of trait anxiety is also compati-
tion may discrimina te better between individuals differ- ble withth9ry nd findings on the mechanisms respon-
ing in trait anxiety (Beidel et al., 1985; Tremayne & Barry, sible for the~ffects of anxiety on performance and effi-
1990), which is consistent with our data conceming ciency (Calvo & Castillo, 1995; Eysenck & Calvo, 1992),
heart rate recovery after the task. Finally, the negative which constitutes a main line of research within the anx-
correlations with performance in a fine motor task iety area. The agreement is particularly noteworthy with
(which was cognitively very simple), are also compati- regard to }he notion concerning biased processing of in-
ble with a biological interpretation involving altered temal information. lt is generally accepted that anxiety
physiological mechanisms in neuromuscular control impairs performance and/ or efficiency beca use highly
(though this effect was restricted to females). Previous anxious persons genera te and attend to interna! aversive
research has also provided sorne evidence of a negative or threatening information (e. g., self-deprecatory
effed of trait anxiety on fine motor tasks, regardless of thoughts about one's own capacity, expectations of fail-
their cognitive demands (Calvo & Alamo, 1987). ure, focus on one' s own physiological and behavioral
As a whole, these findings are mainly consistent reactions, etc.) during task performance (e. g., Sarason,
with a cognitive, rather than a biological, notion of trait 1984). This biased processing of internal sources of infor-
anxiety, as most characteristics associated with trait anx- mation with threatening content would give rise to the
iety are concerned with perceived rather than actual high levels of cognitive interference experienced by
measures. The cognitive nature of trait anxiety means high-anxiety persons. As a consequence of this interfer-
that it is characterized by biases to attend to potentially ence with central processing systems, such as working
threatening information and to interpret ambiguous in- memory, either (a) performance would be impaired, or
formation as threatening. This selective and preferential (b) efficiency would be reduced, because anxious indi-
processing of threat-related information has been well viduals would have to use compensatory resources, or
documented with regard to external stimuli (see Ey- both.
senck, 1992; MacLeod, 1996; Mathews & MacLeod, In conclusion, trait anxiety involves cognitive
1994). An implication is that these biases could also ex- rather than biological vulnerability to anxiety disorders.
tend to internal sources of information. As Eysenck No actual biological deficit or dysfunction has been
(1997) has recently argued, persons high in trait anxiety found to be associated with trait anxiety. Only slightly
possess cognitive biases with the processing of informa- slower physiological recovery after stress and interfer-
tion about their own physiological activity, behavior, ence with motor performance could be (indirectly) re-
and cognitions, which lead them to exaggerate the lated to biological vulnerability. This absence of biolog-
threateningness of intemal stimuli. Accordingly, in our ical differences cannot be attributed to low levels of trait
study, this can explain (a) why high trait anxiety was anxiety in our sample. The fact that trait anxiety was
associated with self-report of intemal negative symp- negatively related to both cognitive and motor perfor-
toms both of psychological and biological health, where- mance under stress, and that participants belonged to
as no objective manifestations appeared; and (b) why it the same population as those who .have shown strong
was associated with subjective cognitive and somatic cognitive biases in previous experiments (e. g., Calvo &
distress under ego-threat conditions, while only minor Castillo, 1997; Calvo et al., 1994), ensures that we are
physiological and motor alterations were actually ob- dealing with significant levels of trait anxiety. The
served. This interpretation is also in line with findings cognitive vulnerability interpretation rests on the fact
revealing that high-anxiety individuals report focusing that trait anxiety was related to perceived (rather than
intemally and having greater awareness of their distress actual) poor biological health and perceived high reac-
feelings (Baggett et al., 1996), and that they are more tivity to stress. Previous researeh with fine-grained ex-
likely to monitor their intemal psychophysiological perimental paradigms has documented this type of vul-
states (Walsh et al., 1994). Presumably, the actual behav- nerability with regard to attentional and interpretative
ioral and physiological changes are important in so far biases to potentially threatening external stimuli (e. g.,
as they feedback to perception (see hman's model, Calvo & Castillo, 1997; MacLeod & Cohen, 1993; Mogg
1996), but they hardly contribute to trait anxiety on their et al., 1994). In this study, the evidence suggests that hy-
own. Therefore, biased attention to and interpretation of pervigilance to threat-related internal information is
European Psychologist, Vol. 2, No. 4, December 1997, pp. 301-312
310 .1997 Hogrefe & Huber Publishers
The Nature of Trait Anxiety

also involved. This self-focusing bias has been found in acti;vation. Quarterly /~urna/ of Experimental Psychology (A),
several anxiety disorders and other psychopathological 163-182.
states (Wells & Matthews, 1994, pp. 212-226; Woody, Calvo M.G., Eysenck, M.W., & Estevez, A. (1994). Ego-threat in-
terpretive bias in test anxiety: On-line inferences. Cognition and
1996). Therefore, vulnerability in trait anxiety is con-
Emotion, 8, 127::>146.
cemed with biased processing of both extemal and in-
Calvo M.G., Ramos, P.M., & Estevez, A. (1992). Test anxiety and
terna! threat-related stimuli. comprehension efficiency: The role of prior knowledge and
working memory deficits. Anxiety, Stress and Coping, 5, 125-
Acknowledgments 138..
Clark, .:A., Watson, D., & Mineka, S. (1994). Temperament, per-
This research was supported by Grant PS94-0079 from soralit). ..and the mood and anxiety disorders. fournal of Abnor-
the DGICYT, Ministerio de Educacin y Ciencia. We mal Psychology, 103, 103-116.
thank Alicia Rodrguez Barrera, Carmen Irene Prez Costa, P.T., & McCrae, R.R. (1987). Neuroticism, somatic com-
Garca, Alejandro Jimnez Sosa, and Pedro Avero Del- plaints, and disease: Is the bark worse than the bite? Journal of
Personality, 55, 299-316.
gado, for their assistance in data collection. We are also
Craske, M.G., & Craig, K.D. (1984). Musical performance anxiety:
grateful to Monique de Bonis, Michael W. Eysenck, Al-
The three-systems model and self-efficacy theory. Behavior Re-
fons Hamm, Andrew Mathews, and Ame hman, for search and Therapy, 22, 267-280.
comments on this paper during the symposium on DeBusk, R.F. (1990). Techniques of exercise testing. In J.W. Hurst
"New Developments of Anxiety Research: Mechanisms & R.C. Schlant (Eds.), The heart (pp.1825-1834). New York:
of Anxiety," Lisbon, Portugal, November 14-16, 1996. McGraw Hill.
Derakshan, N., & Eysenck, M.W. (1996). Interpretive biases Jor one's
own behavior in high-anxious individuals and repressors. Submit-
ted for publication.
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