PART III: Cognition and Coping


Examining Cognition in CBT: A Cognitive Roadmap for Anxiety Self-Help

Madisyn Owens; Nicole Alensonorin; and Evangelyn Durante

When studying the idea of anxiety self-help, this paper must discuss the idea of cognition and how that can affect the development of anxiety as well as the treatment for by doing mindfulness practice. Cognition is defined as the “mental processes involved in perception, attention, memory, emotions, language, decisions, thinking, and reasoning” (Goldstein, 2019). This definition shows the complexity of cognition and how it can easily create positive and negative aspects related to oneself. This paper seeks to examine how students in college can create a cognitive roadmap for anxiety with the use of self-help treatments, to help change the negative mindset that some college students develop as a result of being confronted with new challenges such as navigating an adult life, managing heavy academic workloads, developing new relationships, and social pressure to develop maturity to be able to make socially acceptable choices .This transition can be stressful for freshmen; along with  moving away from home and potentially out of state, the college experience suddenly becomes more challenging as their normal comforts and support systems dissipate. This paper plans to explain how cognition typically functions and how it can be affected by anxiety through the ideas of neuroscience, perception, attention, memory, conceptual knowledge, language, and imagery. It will also offer suggestions to alleviate anxieties and how mindfulness practice can benefit cognitive functions.

Cognition: The Basic Ideas of Cognition

Cognition is the foundation of our psychological experience and awareness, thus it’s quality influences our daily lives. Cognition is studied through brain imaging techniques, which show how the human brain activates during cognitive activity. The fMRI is the most commonly used form of brain-imaging techniques, which measures how blood flow changes in response to cognitive activity. This is a way to see what parts of the brain influence particular parts of cognition. This is done through case studies and through experimental studies. From such work where research participants engage in multiple tasks, theories about cognition have been developed. For example, the serial recall test is a way that short-term and long-term memory can be examined, by giving the participants a list of words to hear and then recall back. This can show the primacy and recency effect, which are showing that information heard first is remembered because it is stored in the long-term memory, while information heard last is remembered because it is stored in short-term memory. Many psychologists use these types of tests to determine aspects of cognition and to expand upon it. Furthermore, psychologists assume that they must use empirical methodologies to study the mind. In using these methodologies, psychologists should be conscious of construct validity, which is how well a tool measures an abstract concept, and the process of operationalization, which is defining the abstract concept. Psychologists need to define and create a method to measure and describe the idea they are measuring.

To start the discussion of cognitive neuroscience, the audience should understand that the brain is very complex, invoking psychologists to discuss whether the idea of “localization of function”, which is the idea in neuroscience that specific areas of the brain have certain functions. In contrast, psychologists also debate the idea of cortical equipotentiality, which states that the brain operates as an indivisible whole. Both these ideas share some validity; however,neither are wholly correct, prompting psychologists to believe that our behavior is a result of the combination of these ideas, rather than one or the other. This is important to understand because it feeds into the idea of distributed representation and neural networks.

To start the discussion, the brain is thought to be separated into specific regions that each have special functions, yet all work together in the development of cognition. These four regions are the frontal lobe, parietal lobe, temporal lobe, and the occipital lobe. These lobes each have their own function, yet they do share commonalities and often work together in cognitive processes. The frontal lobe is associated with action control and self regulation and consists of 3 main parts, the primary motor cortex, Broca’s area, and the prefrontal cortex. The primary motor cortex controls the motor movements of a person, while Broca’s area controls the production of language. The prefrontal cortex is associated with decision-making, personality expression, and controlling social behavior. The next lobe, which is the parietal lobe, is associated with sensations, like how a person feels the wind on their face as an example. The occipital lobe is associated with vision and what a person perceives visually. The last lobe is the temporal lobe, which is associated with auditions and semantics, with one of the main parts of the lobe being Wernicke’s area, which controls language comprehension. In addition, parts of the brain like the amygdala, which is associated with emotions and emotion perception, and the hippocampus, which is associated with memory are part of the temporal lobe. However, as stated above, these functions aren’t localized in each of these areas of the brain rather, these parts work together to create the specific processes of cognition.

The central principle of cognition is that human experience is multidimensional, with a combination of different qualities. This idea combines both, emphasizing the complexity of cognition. The idea of distributed representation is defined as “occurring when a specific cognition activates many areas of the brain” (Goldstein, 2019). This is emphasized by neural networks, which are “interconnected areas of the brain that can communicate with each other” (Goldstein, 2019). They are connected via structural connectivity which is a wiring diagram created by neurons axons, which are the part of the neuron that transmits signals from the cell body to the synapse, that connect different brain areas. The structural pathways have functional pathways, which is the extent in which the neural activity in separate areas of the brain is correlated with each other. With each of the networks operating dynamically to show the true dynamic nature of cognition. In addition, the neural network theory shows that there is a resting state of brain activity, parts of the brain will go into a resting state, while others can remain active all the time, despite there being no cognitive activity.

The Atypicality of Cognition That is Produced by Anxiety

In this section this paper we explain how anxiety can create particular neural networks that bias attention creating feelings of stress among college freshmen attempting to obtain a college degree. As well as show how aspects of cognition interact to enhance the development of anxiety. Anxiety will most likely affect ⅓ of the population at some point in their life experience. In pursuing a college degree the transition can be stressful for freshmen; along with  moving out of state, the college experience suddenly becomes more challenging as their normal comforts and support systems dissipate. We seek to understand how anxiety can develop in college freshmen through the idea of cognition.

Individual Difference of Neurological Aspects of Cognition Due to Anxiety

There are many parts of the brain that contribute to the development of anxiety. Anxiety and emotion are linked together, which can form these negative ways of processing. Furthermore, emotion, though not part of cognition is linked to it, and can inhibit parts of the cognitive processes. Anxiety is believed to be a trigger of the brain’s fight or flight response , linked to both the cerebral cortex and the amygdala (Harvard Health Publishing, 2011). The cerebral cortex is linked to thinking and decision-making, so when the feeling of anxiety makes its way into the mind, this part of the brain gets triggered, giving rise to irrational thought processes. These thought processes could be a negative self-schema, which is a negative view upon oneself due to poor performance, past events like bullying, etc.. The second part of the brain that is active is the amygdala, which is considered the emotional center of the brain, dealing with a person’s emotional processing. In the development of anxiety the amygdala is thought to be “hypersensitive to threats”(Azab, 2018), causing a person to feel more emotion towards “trivial” matters and likely be sensitive to stress. In college, the transition into the adult world causes many students to feel stress, on top of the feelings of depression, which can be caused from leaving home, creating a perfect storm of situations to produce anxiety among students.

With the amygdala being the “emotional center of the brain”, dealing with the emotional states that people feel as a response to the environment and prompting responses to the environment, it can influence the effectiveness of the memory system. As with hot executive function, which is discussed later in the paper, the limbic system and declarative system share structures to influence memory. Intense emotion can damage memory, as well as affect many other cognitive processes, which can include problem solving and decision-making, which are all 3 important aspects needed in pursuing a secondary education. Studies have found that the amygdala and prefrontal cortex work with the medial temporal lobe, which is a control process that supports memory consolidation (Tyng, 2017). The amygdala works as a threat detector. The hippocampus works as the “processing station” of memory, by sorting and connecting features into schemas, for successful learning and long-term memory retention. The hippocampus focuses on memory encoding and formation. These parts of the brain all work together in the working memory system to form long term memory. Emotions can serve as a benefit to memory, sometimes “supercharging” it, but the chronic feeling of stress only impairs memory, causing students to do poorly on class work and exams.

These neural networks and the coordination they have in producing anxiety is also tied into the cognitive process of perception, which is altered due to these neural networks and areas of the brain.

How the Cognitive Process of Perception is Altered due to Anxiety

The cognitive process of perception is defined as the experiences resulting from stimulus of the senses, so in essence it is the result from the neurological activations of the brain when observing a stimulus in the environment. Information is processed through either top-down processing, which is “processing that originates in the brain, at the top of the perceptual system” (Goldstein, 2019), or bottom-up processing, which is “when environmental energy stimulates the perceptual receptors” (Goldstein, 2019). In top-down processing, the knowledge base allows for people to rapidly identify objects and scenes and to determine a story behind scenes. Experience typically shapes the nervous system, showing that the brain can be “tuned” to operate within a particular environment. This means that there is an interaction between bottom-up and top-down processing, with the information flowing from the perceptual receptors to the brain and the knowledge base providing a sense of knowing of a particular environment or situation. Furthermore, these types of ways of perceiving a stimulus in the environment, connects to action. The way they do this is through pathways connecting parts of the brain, which are the dorsal and ventral pathways. The ventral pathway is a “neural pathway extending from the occipital lobe to the temporal lobe, that is associated with perceiving and recognizing objects”. The dorsal pathway is “a neural pathway, extending from the occipital lobe to the parietal lobe, that is associated with neural processing that occurs when people locate objects in space” (Goldstein, 2019).The ventral pathway is ran by emotion, often susceptible to mind-wandering and attentional capture in the average person, which is discussed later.

As stated above, cognition and emotion often interact causing reactions to things in the environment. Emotion allows us to create more vivid, not necessarily accurate, memories of the situation. Furthermore, emotion is the epicenter of the brain structure of the amygdala, which typically operates as a threat detector, as well as supercharges emotional memories. As a threat detector it perceives an environmental threat, such as lightning through perception, which prompts action, which in that situation would be to go inside. However, due to anxiety people develop hypervigilance, which is an enhanced state of arousal, stress, or sensitivity to certain sensory stimuli, which can cause intense emotional reactions, anxiety, and impulsive behavior. Due to hypervigilance, these stimuli that are perceived go to the amygdala, creating a sense of threat or disaster within a person. This creates a sense of urgency within the person, causing them to partake in impulsive and compulsive behaviors in an attempt to deal with the feeling of uneasiness or uncertainty. The person feels as though they are on constant alert, looking for a threat that doesn’t exist, through looking through their past memories or screening future events in their head. This creates a hypersensitivity to pain, stress, and anxiety all things felt at some point by new college students, leaving home for the first time.

Furthermore, it makes people who feel this way seek to avoid social-challenging situations or relationships. This is why they can be prone to developing anxiety in college. The stress and anxiety felt by leaving home and embarking on the journey of adult life is daunting, creating a perception of stress that could cause students to undertake impulsive and compulsive behaviors, while in school, threatening their performance of school work as well as their safety. Also it can cause students to feel more isolated, as they tend to avoid these socially challenging situations and relationships, which can further increase their anxiety, as well as leave the students vulnerable for the development of depression. The emotional responses triggered by hypervigilance is detachment, anxiety, fear, panic, negative self-schemas, emotional withdrawal or shut down, anger, and worrying. These are all things that negatively impact an incoming college student, causing them to perform worse on their school work, as well as, damage relationships with people. Typically threat detection is supposed to occur with “real and physical threats”, such as a mugging or being lost, rather than a test or project.

In addition, the idea of hypervigilance relies on the idea of scene schemas, which are an observer’s knowledge about what is contained in typical scenes or more simply the regularities of the environment. Typically, scene schemas are a reflection of regularities in the environment and guides where a person’s eyes travel as they scan a scene, determining then what you do and don’t perceive.  For example, a person can see a chair, using top-down processing, they determine that it is indeed a chair, because of the use of their schemas, or knowledge base. Threats in our schema, typically are physical and relate to danger to our survival. However, during hypervigilance a person perceives a threat within the environment that isn’t really “threatening”, but that threat detection prompts attention and action, trying to understand the threat and get rid of the unwanted feeling. To people experiencing hypervigilance, the feelings of stress induced by it are an irregularity of the environment, bringing forward their attention to try and ease the problem. The person is trying to ease the irregularity, which is stress or isolation. This leads further into the idea that attention, perception, emotions, and anxiety are linked.

The Connection of Attention to Anxiety

Perception, as stated above, is linked with emotions and attention, prompting action to respond to the environment. Perception leads to the attention to a particular aspect of the environment, while emotion creates the response to that stimulus. Anxiety provides an irregularity to this process, influenced heavily by emotion. This influence creates a negative response felt by students. Attention is the “ability to focus on specific stimuli or locations” (Goldstein, 2019). People split attention through selective attention, which is attending a singular thing while ignoring others, and attentional capture, which is a shifting of attention caused by a stimulus. This stimulus can be a distraction, which is a stimulus that interferes with another stimulus. This can be a phone ringing or a person dressed as a monkey going to class. A distraction or attentional capture leads to divided attention, which is when a person pays attention to more than one thing at time, such as texting and driving. Divided attention is a detriment to a person’s ability to retain information. People have a processing capacity or amount of information people can handle. This sets a limit on their ability to process information. Multitasking can be difficult because of this. It is possible to multitask, if the two things are easy and require little mental energy, but a person still doesn’t work at their optimal performance. Furthermore, perceptual load or the difficulty of a task plays into how much a person can focus on efficiently.  If the two things are both difficult it is almost impossible to multitask. As stated above, low-load tasks, which use up small amounts of a person’s processing capacity, are easier to multi-task with because it isn’t taking up as much mental energy. There is still mental energy to use for other tasks. However, high-load tasks take up more of the person’s processing capacity, which means that a person has little mental energy to devote to other stimuli, making it harder to multitask.

In a typical situation, the way attention does this is by sending signals “downstream”, with the ventral pathway, which is related to action and letting the environment control a person’s mental energy not the person, taking precedence over the dorsal pathway, which is related to perception and how a person can keep their energy open to things in the environment. The ventral stream or pathway is based on the idea of divided attention or distraction. Distraction occurs when attention capture, which is “a rapid shifting of attention, usually caused by a stimulus” (Goldstein, 2019), overrides selective attention, which is when a person “attends to one thing and ignores the other” (Goldstein, 2019). Typically people are in a state of attentional capture about 50% of the time. Normally it can be parts of the environment that can grab a person’s attention, such as an odd looking piece of furniture that doesn’t connect with a normal schema of a piece of furniture or the ringing of a phone.  Mind-wandering is a typicality among the population, but what happens when it becomes atypical?

Anxiety itself is a distraction or a source that causes divided attention because of the negative and worrisome thoughts that plague the person, forcing them to focus on those thoughts rather than the environment in front of them. For students in college this form of distraction, which could be anxiety about leaving home for the first time or the fear of the intensity of college classes, is debilitating, causing them to focus less on their school work and often perform poorly as a result. This causes a hot executive function, which is top-down processing that triggers the fight or flight response and causes the person to shut down control. This gives the person a feeling of being overwhelmed and low in energy, as it takes up much of the mental energy a person has to be in a hot executive function. The environment controls the mental and physical energy a person exerts not the person, which causes performance to decrease.

In a situation without the presence of anxiety, a person can experience the cool executive function. This focuses on the idea of the dorsal stream in which a person keeps energy open to things in the environment. There is no feeling of being overwhelmed mentally, as there is energy to combat the environment. This can help increase performance.  Everyone starts at a different baseline in temperament, which is how one emotionally reacts to the environment, and implementing this in differing intensity can help return the person to a cool executive function so that they can deal with what the environment throws at them.

Long Term Memory and Anxiety

Furthermore, long term memory is defined as “a system that is responsible for storing information for long periods of time (Goldstein, 2019). The hippocampus is one part of the brain that influences memory. It is important for forming new long-term memories, as well as, holding information for short periods of time. This shows that though short-term and long-term memory are distinct, they aren’t as separate as psychologists believed. There are instances where they work together.  Working memory becomes long-term once it is elaborately rehearsed, which is “rehearsal that involves thinking about the meaning of an item to be remembered or making connections between the item and prior knowledge” (Goldstein, 2019). When a person rehearses information they are encoding it, which means that they are acquiring the information and transferring it to long-term memory. This can be done through forming visual images of the word or idea, linking the words to yourself, generating the material, or organizing information using retrieval cues or a stimulus to help a person remember information stored in memory.

Long term memory is split into two types of memory, which are declarative and nondeclarative memory. Declarative memory is the aspect that is going to be focused on. It is the memory of events that can be consciously recalled. The two aspects of this declarative memory system are semantic memory, which is memory of ideas and concepts, and episodic memory, which is memory of experiences. The differences between them lie in the fact that episodic memory requires mental time travel, in which people reconnect with events that happened in the past. To recall or retrieve events from long-term memory, a person must go through mental time travel and relive that experience. In semantic memory, we don’t travel back in time mentally, but rather recall things that we are familiar with and know about. The development of semantic memory occurs by first recalling it as episodic memory, or experiencing it, and then our experiences stack up and become knowledge. In other words, our episodes become semantic over a period of time.

There is also another type of long-term memory, which is autobiographical, which combines the ideas of episodic and semantic memory. It is defined as people’s memories for experiences from their own lives. This combines experiences of the person and the facts surrounding those experiences. This feeds into the idea of self-memory, which is a narrative of your life organizing facts and experiences to form a narrative to connect the past, present, and future. This type of memory is social in nature and flexible and responsive to situations. The person seeks to have the story make sense and provide truthful depictions of memory; however, they also want the narrative to reflect who they want to be seen as socially. A person’s development of self memory begins with family-child relationships, engaging in enculturation, which is the process in which people learn about their characteristics and norms of their culture. There is an emphasis on thinking of self in relation to others. In western culture, which is individualistic, see themselves as separate  from the other and value uniqueness. In eastern cultures, they tend to value collectivism, in which people are not separate from others. They are one of a whole. This shows how culture can influence how self memory is created and how individual differences are formed, such as anxiety.

How Anxiety Affects Communication

Humans have an universal need to communicate, as discussed in the textbook by Goldstein. Language is “a system of communication though using sounds and symbols that enables us to express our feelings, thoughts, ideas, and experiences (Goldstein, 2019). The need to communicate through language is a powerful and universal idea that dominates in human culture. Normally people understand stories and texts through inferences, which is using previous knowledge to go beyond the information provided in the text. The inferences create connections between parts of a story or scene in the environment. Typically the story is a narrative, “which refers to texts in which there is a story that progresses from one event to another” (Goldstein, 2019). The important part of the typical story is coherence, which is “the representation of the text in a person’s mind that creates clear relations between parts of the texts and and the main topic of the story” (Goldstein, 2019). A person needs to have coherence to understand a script or story.

During a panic episode with anxiety, a person can have trouble thinking and creating coherence in their own language and thoughts, often creating delusional thinking patterns. Coherence is impaired. Anxiety with the massive hypervigilance that creates overthinking and enhanced attention to the environment, overloads the brain, making it hard to make sense of language. Furthermore, in connection to attention, the hypervigilance causes mind-wandering in a person with anxiety, making it more difficult to keep themselves focused on a particular thought. This makes it hard for the person to listen and respond, impairing the universal human need to communicate, which can enhance anxiety as well. In addition, anxiety can impair movements involved in speech, such as the movement of the tongue. The most common aspect of anxiety in social situations is tongue stumbling. A person’s tongue is the way to make the sounds used in producing language and most of the time is an automatic process and creates the sounds needed to produce a word or sentence. However, anxiety can cause some of the automatic movements to become less so, because of the hypervigilant focus on them, making it harder to produce words due to tongue stumbling.  Communication is key for college students, who most likely will have to give presentations in class or on their undergraduate thesis. Anxiety can impair their performance on these types of tasks, by affecting the coherency of the presentation or the ability to produce the speech in order to get their point across.

Anxiety and Memory

Memory is defined as the “process involved in retaining, retrieving, and using information about stimuli, images, ideas, and skills after the original information is no longer present” (Goldstein, 2019). Memory has two main parts, working memory and long-term memory. Working Memory was introduced by Baddley and Hitch in 1974, and was defined as “a limited capacity system for temporary storage and manipulation of information of information for complex tasks such as comprehension, learning, and reasoning” (Goldstein, 2019). The model consists of the phonological loop, which is processing of verbal and auditory information, the visuospatial sketchpad, which holds visual and spatial information, and the central executive, which pulls information from long term memory and coordinates the activity of the phonological loop and visuospatial sketchpad by focusing on particular aspects of a task and deciding how to divide attention between the tasks. Furthermore, this model also later came to include the episodic buffer, which can store information, therefore providing extra capacity for memory, and is connected to long-term memory, which makes the interaction between working memory and long-term memory possible. Working Memory connects to long-term memory by creating patterns of activation in your brain that will help a person survive by connecting the past, present, and future.  People seek to create a story of experiences in an attempt to connect and organize into past and present to plan for the future.

In the development of anxiety, memory can be enhanced selectively due to hypervigilance and threat detection. The person through these processes tends to put massive amounts of mental energy in perceiving and paying attention to their environment, as they have a constant feeling of threat in their mind. Working memory is the one most affected by anxiety. A person with anxiety is overly sensitive to sensory information due to hypervigilance, which creates a feeling of uncertainty or conflict. Many people believe that the executive function of working memory is affected most by anxiety because it causes people to lose attentional control. Hypervigilance forces people to focus on multiple aspects of the environment, overloading their sensory perception. They can’t control this focus on attention in most cases. This is a serious case of attentional capture, as aspects of the environment which people deem “threatening” are overwhelming their attention (Lukasik, 2019).

This leads into the idea of wise intervention, which is ways to help cope with anxiety created by the college environment and how these interventions, such as mindfulness practice, can help change our cognitive processing to promote positive behavior and feeling.

Cognitive Roadmap of Mindfulness Practice

What is a Wise Intervention?

To begin the discussion on coping, the idea of wise intervention should be explained, to show the interventions people can do in their daily lives and develop positive cognitive processes. The idea of wise intervention is to alter specific meanings in social contexts of a person and thought processes in precise ways to create a lasting personal or situational change. These interventions are more simple and ordinary, yet precise ways of changing ordinary life and they do this by changing how people think or feel to help them flourish. Subject-meaning making, which is how people perceive themselves and social situations, can prevent people from taking advantage of opportunities for improvement already available to them. Wise interventions can allow people to change how people perceive themselves and social situations, allowing them to no longer prevent the loss of advantages. These wise interventions require critical examination and thought, prompting lots of instructions and guidelines when preparing them. They also tie into the idea of intelligence and mental health while in college, which is the premise of our chapter on cognition. The growth mindset of intelligence is a wise intervention in which people alter the way they view intelligence. Intelligence isn’t being told that a person is “smart” or “intelligent”, but rather intelligence is introduced as a thing that can be grown or expanded through the different learning styles, hard work, and help from others. This connects to our paper on anxiety in college because one major source of anxiety can be the feelings of inadequacy in the mindset of intelligence, which can promote or intensify the anxiety felt by college students.

Wise interventions are characterized by five different principles (Walton and Wilson, 2018), which are altering meanings to promote change, how meanings operate within the complex systems and situations of the human experience, how new meanings can stimulate a recursive change in people and situations, how wise interventions should be tested rigorously to promote the change, and lastly the ethical considerations that should be implemented when considering wise interventions. Wise interventions involve an intense understanding of a person’s psychological reality or what it’s like to be the person and how they react to their social world. Like the more formal therapeutic intervention of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy a wise intervention helps people focus on how to make sense of themselves and situations and how this subject-meaning making is the direct cause of the behavior. They both aim to revise negative thinking patterns. However, wise interventions, unlike CBT,  use a variety of techniques and exercises rather than just the repeated one on one sessions to change thinking patterns. Furthermore, they are not limited to the context of clinical disorder and treatment; rather they focus on ordinary and simple thought processes. CBT is delivered in the context of therapy, where one is first diagnosed and then treated by a licensed professional. A wise intervention is not therapy, but can be used on a daily basis by anyone.

The main guidelines behind wise interventions is to begin with a specific and well-rounded psychological theory that can be used to create a tool to change the subject-meaning making that creates on their thoughts and situations. Furthermore, psychologists should know that these situations are context-dependent and that they will not produce the same results every time they are implemented. These wise interventions depend on the type of person, setting, process, etc. that it is targeting. For example, a person trying to implement a wise intervention on low self-esteem should target people with low self-esteem, not those who already have high self-esteem. In addition, to be considered effective the wise intervention should actually change the psychological process it is trying to alter in the long term and that can only be done if the wise intervention is recursive. The main purpose of a wise intervention is to create a long-lasting change preventing people from missing advantages in life due to their own subject-meaning making. An example of this is how minority college students will drop out of college, despite having “good” grades because of their subject-meaning making deemed them as not fit for secondary education (Wilson, 2014). Wise interventions can help prevent the negative outlook, which can prompt positive actions. By providing an intervention that makes them see themselves as good enough, they can flourish. Wise interventions are meant to subtly revise how one reflects to create new meanings  for the people they target, so by creating reflective exercises and increasing commitment to the intervention with action, these interventions can be advantageous.

The typical function of attention is the ability to focus our energy on something in the present, cognitively attention can sync up with perception (i.e., a way of understanding or interpreting something) to create a reaction or behavior to the object that is being focused on. For example, when our attention is focused on class we are combining our senses (e.g., sight and hearing) with note-taking to take in the information that is being taught to us. Normal processing would mean the external information is constantly being processed in our working memory, while in the sensory memory it takes out unimportant information while also manipulating and storing what we perceive to be important. After this the information moves to our short term memory, the information is rehearsed in the control process and unimportant information is filtered out. Typically once the information has been rehearsed enough it is moved into the long term memory and the more the cells wire together the easier it will be to recall that information in which schemas are created. Schemas result from the operation of semantic memory and are known as a category of knowledge. When processing in a normal function the schema will divide information into different categories of knowledge and will organize it by encoding and connecting the information with existing information. This essentially means the more connections of knowledge that you have the easier it will be to recall that information. For example, these schemas are used when defining different species of animals, this is how people can identify the differences between cats and dogs.

When everyday stressors begin to overwhelm students things like anxiety begin to surface, which may intensify as young adults enter their first year of college. As we’ve learned in class attentional stress is a modern-day problem and likely to get worse as we grow older. The feeling of being overwhelmed can greatly contribute to high levels of anxiety, for example, when important deadlines are getting closer a student may be distraught and not know how to focus their attention on a single assignment, their ability to attention capture overrides their ability of attentional control and leaves the students rushing to complete the assignments, therefore, causing more anxieties of the possibility of failure. This example can also affect memory (i.e., working memory, short term memory, and long term memory/ schemas). If the feelings of being overwhelmed surpass your ability to focus on classes the student will not be able to process information properly into their memory. When distracted due to your anxieties your mind is preoccupied with negative thoughts of possible future outcomes (mainly revolving around grades). The inability to control your attention means your working memory is also preoccupied with distractions and not paying attention to the present task. Once the working memory is not properly intaking information, the sensory memory will filter out irrelevant things (e.g., class lectures) and store the negative emotions that were distracting you. The process is then rehearsed in the control process and again stored into the long term memory and connected to a schema. Since the important information (i.e., class lecture) was not properly processed and stored into the long term memory; it will not connect to a pre-existing schema and further intensify the anxieties of failing classes since the information will not easily be able to be recalled in the future. Thus creating an endless cycle of anxieties.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Mindfulness Practice: Cognitive Roadmap for Treatment

There are many ways to help students with two of the main ones to be used to enhance cognitive processing and improve college students’ mental health, specifically those who are suffering from anxiety upon entering their first year. The two ways are through cognitive behavioral therapy and mindfulness practice, which can help change a person’s perspective as well as give them ways to change their thinking and focus to create positive behavioral responses. By using mindfulness practice this will not only improve their mental health but also strengthen cognitive functions such as attention, working memory, and long term memory.

No matter where you are in life there will always be a small amount of anxiety; each person will have different degrees and may need different ways to help them cope.  At Pacific, there are many different places in which students can get support if they need it. If every student was aware of this method of coping the students that attend the school will be able to find healthy ways to cope with their anxieties without even having to leave their rooms.

Depicted below is a logic chart for our project based on the example from Walton and Wilson (2018). It shows how a negative situation such as being away from home (i.e., a secure place ), family, and friends (i.e., people that you know and understand you) can negatively impact a student. It can lead to extreme levels of anxiety which affects the cognitive aspect of your brain negatively.  Although the method is a good outlet to cope with anxiety it should be noted that if feelings of anxiety are extreme students should know that others are there to listen and be there for them. Also, these are not solutions to a problem by any means but options to improve daily life and cognitive functions.

In conclusion, wise intervention is a way to change a person’s mindset and promote advantageous results that help the person flourish in an ordinary and simple life. They can be as simple as changing the mindset of intelligence. For this project, the wise intervention can help ease the development of anxiety in college students and enhance cognitive functions of the working memory, long term memory, and attention.

Mindfulness Practice : Cognitive Roadmap for Treatment

There is a way for treatment that can be used cognitively to help provide self-help to those college students suffering with anxiety upon entering their first year. That way is through mindfulness practice, which can help change a person’s perspective as well as give them ways to change their thinking and focus to create positive behavioral responses.

Mindfulness practice is defined as “paying attention in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally” (Kabat-Zinn, 1994). Mindfulness has been active treatment for mind-wandering and distraction that can accompany anxiety. Mindfulness practice has been around for many years, showing how long-lasting and effective it is as a treatment to change the way people attempt certain cognitive processes. There have been many connections of mindfulness to religion, but it didn’t start out as religion, but it did influence some, such as Buddhism. There are many secular parts to mindfulness and that aligns with modern Cognitive and Health Sciences. Mindfulness provides meditative practices to try and increase a person’s attentional control. This is done with helping people control their executive function in their working memory. The executive function is what is impaired during anxiety. This function deals with looping in the phonological loop, which stores verbal and auditory information, and the visuospatial sketchpad, which stores visual and spatial information. It is a way of controlling and determining what kind of information gets into a person’s working memory. Furthermore, it pulls information from long-term memory, connecting schemas or scripts from the long-term memory to what a person perceives visually, spatially, and verbally. This function is essential for success in academics as it controls emotions and what we pay attention to or what makes it into a person’s working memory, that can be later encoded and retrieved via long-term memory.  When developing anxiety, a student finds it difficult to bring multiple cognitive processes together, due to the impairment of executive self-regulation, and results in negative outcomes in their school work.

Mindfulness is not as simple as it sounds, with attentional meditation being very difficult, requiring lots of practice to achieve. Focused attentional mediation has been shown to increase attentional control through better control of the executive control of inhibition, which is the ability to control automatic responses, and create responses by attention and reasoning. Mindfulness seeks to analyze thoughts and sensations to the thing surrounding them. This helps develop more control over the executive control process, focusing on specific things in a person’s own sensations and environment surrounding them, rather than the “feared stimulus” developed during anxiety.  It helps us set goals, plan, and make decisions in a more effective and beneficial way. It can even enhance active engagement while a person is listening, helping students focus on their school work and even perform better on it. It is a way to control our negative emotions, which can creep into a person’s daily life, such as through nightmares. This can help a person create a positive emotion, over and over again, making the nightmares and negative self-thought dissipate. It does this by getting the person to focus on the present, rather than the past or future, which is common among people with anxiety. This helps control how we prioritize our limited mental energy, by setting goals and planning, helping elevate the negative mind-wandering and distraction that anxiety can cause upon a person.

Mindfulness is mainly meditation used to focus on trivial issues, such as sensations felt by body and environment. It gets the person to try and not focus on the negative emotions around them. Attention is essential to this practice. The person must put selective attention towards the mediation and try to prevent the attentional capture or distraction that can come with anxiety. This meditation can be done through yoga and meditation referring to specific parts of the environment, such as movement, breathing, awareness, thoughts, sounds, and feelings. This approach can easily be done by students, allowing them to go do yoga or meditation around campus or in their dorm to try and influence their executive control function to focus on the present, rather than the impending future or the terrible past.

No matter where you are in life there will always be a small amount of anxiety; each person will have different degrees and may need different ways to help them cope. In this paper we gave three mostly accessible options for college students to help cope with anxiety. At Pacific there are many different places in which students can get support if they really need it. If every student was aware of these methods of coping the students that attend the school will be able to find healthy ways to cope with their anxieties without even having to leave their rooms.


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What is Cognitive Psychology Good For? Wise Interventions for Personal Growth Copyright © 2020 by Madisyn Owens; Nicole Alensonorin; and Evangelyn Durante is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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