Individuals who possess the “Looming Cognitive Style” (LCS; Riskind et al. in Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 79:837–852, 2000) are biased to perceive mental simulations of possible threats as dynamically emergent phenomena that are rapidly growing, approaching, and expanding in negative consequences. The present study aimed to evaluate whether the LCS is a cognitive risk factor for anxiety and whether it tends to more consistently predict anxiety than depression over 6-month and 12-month time windows.
A cohort of Italian college students (N = 187) were administered measures of the LCS, anxiety, and depression (the BAI and BDI-II) at baseline and then at two successive follow-up assessments 6 and 12 months later.
After controlling for initial symptoms, the LCS and its subscales were generally found to predict 6 months changes in anxiety symptoms but not 6 months changes in depression. In further analyses of 12 months changes, the effect sizes for LCS in predicting 12 months change were equivalent to 6 months change but attenuated in significance due to lower statistical power resulting from the exclusion of the 6 months wave of data collection. Added to this, at 12 months, the LCS physical threat subscale also emerged as a significant predictor of 12 months changes in depression symptoms. Results showed, contrary to expectations of a “positive feedback loop” hypothesis, that anxiety did not predict future increases in LCS.
The LCS predicts anxiety and may do so more consistently than depression, at least in time windows of 6 months of less. The findings are discussed in terms of the potential importance of dynamic threat parameters to anxiety that are not captured by other current putative vulnerability factors.