Fear and anxiety differ in construal level and scope


The fear-anxiety distinction has been extensively discussed and debated among emotion researchers. In this study, we tested this distinction from a social-cognitive perspective. Drawing on construal level theory and regulatory scope theory, we examined whether fear and anxiety differ in their underlying level of construal and scope. Results from a preregistered autobiographical recall study (N = 200) that concerned either a fear situation or an anxiety situation and a large dataset from Twitter (N = 104,949) indicated that anxiety was associated with a higher level of construal and a more expansive scope than fear. These findings support the notion that emotions serve as mental tools that deal with different challenges. While fear prompts people to seek immediate solutions to concrete threats in the here and now (contractive scope), anxiety prompts them to deal with distant and unknown threats that require more expansive and flexible solutions (expansive scope). Our study contributes to a growing literature on emotions and construal level and points to interesting avenues for further research.

Cognition and Emotion