State-Trait Anxiety Scale: What It Is And How To Use It

State-Trait Anxiety Scale

Anxiety is part of human existence and we have all felt this emotion at some point. Although it is an adaptive response, its excess can mean psychopathology.

It should be said that, in everyday language, a more or less explicit distinction is made between what it means to be anxious and to be an anxious person. In the first case, it refers to feeling, temporarily, anxiety, while in the second it is a characteristic of the person.

This nuance is something that Spielberger’s group took into account when they developed the State-Trait Anxiety Scalea tool used in clinical psychology that we will explain below.

What is the State-Trait Anxiety Scale?

The State-Trait Anxiety Scale, (in English State-Trait Anxiety Inventory or STAI), is a questionnaire that was originally developed by Charles Spielberger, RL Gorsuch and RE Lushene in the second half of the last century.

This tool consists of a questionnaire that must be answered by the patient, answering 40 Likert-type questions in which you will indicate how anxious you feel in various situations.

The main purpose of this scale is to find out how much anxiety the patient suffers, but taking into account whether this anxiety is something characteristic of the patient or if it is something momentary, in response to a stressful event. High scores on this questionnaire are associated with having higher levels of anxiety.

The questionnaire has two scales, each with 20 items. On the one hand, it has the anxiety-trait scale, which allows us to know to what extent the person has a personality that predisposes them to suffer anxious symptoms (high levels of neuroticism), while on the other hand there is the anxiety-state scale, the which evaluates how anxiety occurs in specific situations.

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History of this inventory

Charles Spielberger, together with his colleagues RL Gorsuch and RE Lushene, developed this questionnaire, starting in 1964 and completing its final version in 1983. It was developed as a method to evaluate the two types of anxiety, this emotion understood as a trait and as a state, both in the clinical field and in research. In the first phases of the construction of this questionnaire, university samples composed of about 3,000 people were used.

Initially, this questionnaire was only going to be administered to adults without diagnosed psychopathology or who did not belong to risk groups. However, since it turns out to be useful as a diagnostic tool, especially for anxiety disorders, and is very easy to administer, giving the patient the sheet and having them fill it out, Its use ended up becoming widespread in clinical psychology.

Currently, the State-Risk Anxiety Scale is among the ten most used both in clinical psychology and in research, and is usually widely used in psychological evaluation subjects in psychology faculties given its easy correction.

State Anxiety and Trait Anxiety: How are they different?

Anxiety, in general terms, is defined as emotional activation in the face of an element perceived as dangerous, which causes the person to launch a whole series of responses to confront it, flee and avoid the possible implications and risks posed by that threat. However, as we saw before, the concept of anxiety can be defined depending on whether it occurs temporarily, that is, in the form of a state, or if it is something that belongs to the personality of the individual, that is, it is a trait.

Anxiety is defined as a state when feelings of fear, nervousness and discomfort, and the associated physiological response, in the form of increased activation of the autonomic nervous system, occur in the face of a stimulus or situation perceived as potentially dangerous. That is, the person feels anxious not because he necessarily has a predisposition to feel that way, but because the characteristics of the environment contribute to him responding that way. State anxiety is usually an adaptive response and ends up disappearing after the threat has been left behind.

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Trait anxiety is a concept that, in terms of symptoms, is not too different from its counterpart state anxiety., only the origin of this emotional reaction is different. There are feelings of worry, stress and discomfort, but they are not because there is a dangerous stimulus in the environment, but because the person has a personality predisposition to feel anxious, to a greater or lesser extent and in a more or less adaptive way. The person is usually in tension, it is their daily life.

Questionnaire composition

The questionnaire is made up of two scales, one measuring state anxiety and the other trait anxiety, each having 20 items and making a total of 40. The items are answered on a Likert scale, from 0 to 3. Final scores can range from 20 to 80, and the higher the scores, the more anxiety the individual will show.

On both scales There are items that are formulated both referring to the absence of anxiety and the presence. For example, an item that is prepared based on the absence of anxiety would be “I feel safe”, indicating that the higher the score for this specific item, the less anxiety the individual feels. Other items, such as “I feel worried” are made in such a way that the higher the score, the greater the anxiety.

What disorders is it used for?

The State-Trait Anxiety Scale is used, fundamentally, to detect people who have a predisposition, both genetic and environmental, to suffer from an anxiety disorder. Some of the most characteristic anxiety disorders in which the use of this scale can allow us to have a better knowledge of how the patient experiences it are obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), phobia social…

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However, anxiety is not only something found in people with anxiety disorders. As we saw, anxiety is an emotional reaction in which there can be symptoms of worry, tension, stress and discomfort.

For this reason, this reaction is also detectable in other psychological conditions, such as eating disorders (ED), especially anorexia and bulimia nervosa. In these disorders, patients feel great concern about their body image, which causes them great discomfort. Having someone touch or refer to parts of the body that they feel uncomfortable with can activate a whole series of anxious responses also associated with phobias and other anxiety disorders.

Thus, Both in the field of research and in therapies for people with EDs, the use of the State-Trait Anxiety Scale is quite common.allowing us to know more precisely to what extent the patient feels anxiety regarding different parts of her body and to focus the therapy towards their acceptance.

For these cases, another questionnaire is also used, called PASTAS (Physical Appearance State and Trait Anxiety Scale), which is specialized in trait-anxiety and state-anxiety but in different parts of the body (e.g., study by Ferrer-García et al. , 2017).

How is it used?

The main advantage of the State-Risk Anxiety Scale is that it is self-administered, that is, the researcher or therapist gives the questionnaire to the patient and it is the latter who is responsible for completing it. It can be administered either individually or in groups, and there is no time limit.

Normally, people without psychopathology and in a good mood take six minutes to complete each of the two scales of the questionnaire separately and ten minutes if done together. In people with an altered mood or intellectual difficulties, the questionnaire may take more than twenty minutes to complete.

During administration you should avoid mentioning the word “anxiety”.. Although the purpose of the questionnaire is to measure this feeling, to prevent the patient from becoming more nervous and, therefore, affecting his or her answers, it is advisable to limit ourselves to calling it a “self-assessment questionnaire.”

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