A number of research studies over the years have shown that people suffering from anxiety and depression tend to take longer to react to situations, particularly new and unusual situations. This effect is made worse when there is a potential for loss or any form of perceived risk in the new situation or circumstances or the individual is under stress.
A new study from a team of researchers from University of Edinburgh, University of Southampton, University College London, Sackler Institute of Psychobiological Research, University of Glasgow, and The Rockefeller University, New York City has shed some important new light on this phenomenon.
The researchers followed a group of 705 people from their 16th birthday until they were 36 years old and measured, among other things, their anxiety levels and reaction times.
They found that not only do people with anxiety and depression tend to react slower to situations and make slower decisions but that people who have slower reaction times as adolescents tend to be at significantly more risk of developing anxiety and depression later in life. This direction of effect was not expected. There appears to be some mechanism that increases an individuals susceptibility to anxiety and depression that is connected to how fast they react and make decisions at an earlier age.
Clearly some anxieties are created from increased levels of analysis (worry about possible outcomes etc.), and also that an individuals ability to process information is connected to the level of stress they are under (known as allostatic load). However it would appear that reaction and decision making time can be a predictor of anxiety and depression.
Gale, C. R., Batty, G. D., Cooper, S. A., Deary, I. J., Der, G., McEwen, B. S., & Cavanagh, J. (2015). Reaction Time in Adolescence, Cumulative Allostatic Load, and Symptoms of Anxiety and Depression in Adulthood: The West of Scotland Twenty-07 Study. Psychosomatic medicine.