Penn State Worry Questionnaire (PSWQ)
By Maggie Bowman
Psychology Research Assistant
✅ Coming soon on Bravely Connect
The PSWQ is a self-report measure used to assess the severity of chronic worry as commonly seen in individuals with generalized anxiety disorder. It consists of 16 questions which ask the client how characteristic various statements related to worry are of them. Total scores are calculated via the summation of each item; however, some items assess one’s lack of pervasive worry, and these items are reverse-scored. The scores on the PSWQ range from 16 to 80 with higher scores indicating higher levels of worry. Limitations for the PSS include its inability to diagnose any specific disorder, its limited validation research involving people who are not in university environments, and its potential unsuitability for older adults. Even with these limitations, the PSWQ may be helpful for efficiently tracking patients’ levels of worry.
📏 Lengths: 16 questions
📋 Administration: Self-administered
🎯 Uses: Assess severity of trait worry
⚠️ Important Caveats: Not used for diagnosis and may not be accurate for older adults
✅ Available in Bravely Connect? Yes
🌏 Culturally Applicable? Some evidence for cross-cultural applicability, but beware of samples from similar environments (universities)
The PSWQ Question type and length
The client is presented with 16 questions asking how characteristic various statements related to worry are of them. Each question has the same selection of answers: a 5-point Likert-type scale ranging from 1 (not at all typical of me) to 5 (very typical of me). There are five items which assess one’s potential lack of worry; these items are reverse-scored when calculating the total PSWQ score.
Here are examples of items from the PSWQ and the range of answers:
Select the number that best describes how typical or characteristic each item is of you.
If I don‘t have enough time to do everything, I don’t worry about it. (Reverse scored)
Not at all typical
Not very typical
My worries overwhelm me.
Not at all typical
Not very typical
For the full list of questions check out the measures on Bravely Connect, or follow the following link to the original unautomated version: PSWQ
What does the PSWQ measure
The PSWQ measures the severity of chronic worry as commonly seen in individuals with generalized anxiety disorder (Meyer et al., 1990). The PSWQ consists of 16 items that assess the frequency and intensity of worry. The items primarily ask about worry in a general sense and do not assess worry content. Potential PSWQ scores range from 16–80 with higher scores indicating higher levels of worry, while lower scores indicate lower levels of worry.
PSWQ Factor structure
The PSWQ was created with the intention of assessing a single factor: worry. The 1990 study (Meyer et al.) detailing the PSWQ’s creation process describes how the items of the measure were chosen partially due to how these 16 items related to a general “worry” factor. In the time since the original study, multiple studies conducting factor analysis on the PSWQ have found varying potential factor structures.
Some studies have found that a two-factor structure underlies the PSWQ (Fresco et al., 2002; Zhong et al., 2009). The two different factors include the 11 items directly addressing feelings of worry, typically termed “engagement of worry,” and the 5 reverse-scored items, typically termed “absence of worry.” Research occasionally indicates these two factors may be attached to a higher-order “worry” factor (Fresco et al., 2002). Other findings suggest that these items being split into two separate factors is merely an artifact of having some questions be reverse coded, not an indicator of two unique factors (Brown, 2003).
The history and theory behind the PSWQ
The PSWQ was created by T. J. Meyer, M. L. Miller, R. L. Metzger, and Thomas D. Borkovec in 1990. Research prior to the PSWQ indicated that worry, although integral to many anxiety disorders, is a distinct phenomenon that blends the neural states seen in both anxious and depressive moods (Andrews & Borkovec, 1988). In response to these developments refining worry as a unique construct, Meyer and colleagues set out to create a self-report measure for worry.
To create the PSWQ items, the authors started with a pool of 161 potential items derived from prior clinical research on worry, diary entries written by therapy clients with generalized anxiety disorder, items from an anxiety inventory, and theoretical views on worry (Meyer et al., 1990). The items were then tested in a sample of university students. The authors used factor analysis to arrive at the 16-item scale with the items most related to the general “worry” factor. Further research using the scale with university students confirmed the PSWQ’s internal consistency and test-retest reliability.
PSWQ Scoring Interpretation
PSWQ scoring is calculated via the summation of item scores. Five items are reverse-coded; these items assess respondents’ lack of worry. The PSWQ is scored using a 5-point Likert-type scale ranging from 1 (not at all typical of me) to 5 (very typical of me). Potential total scores range from 16 to 80 with higher scores indicating higher levels of worry. Although PSWQ scores are not applicable for diagnosing specific mental health conditions, they may be used to track a client’s perceptions of how much they worry.
The PSWQ may be especially useful for tracking progress in clients being treated for generalized anxiety disorder. Research indicates that the PSWQ is sensitive to change in people who have undergone treatment for generalized anxiety disorder (Borkovec & Costello, 1993).
Who developed the measures, licensing and how to obtain the PSWQ
The PSWQ was created by T. J. Meyer, M. L. Miller, R. L. Metzger, and Thomas D. Borkovec in 1990 with the goal of assessing pathological worry as a distinct feature that is present in individuals with anxiety disorders.
The PSWQ is in the public domain and does not require any specific licensing to use.
The PSWQ is available on Bravely Connect as part of our automated measures. See the PSWQ on Bravely Connect →
Limitations, biases and when you should/shouldn’t use the PSWQ
The PSWQ is a self-report measure that assesses respondents’ levels of worry. While the PSWQ is capable of measuring worry, it is not a diagnostic instrument and there is no score cutoff to indicate any mental health condition with certainty. That said, even though the PSWQ has limited diagnostic utility, it can be useful as a screening tool for pathological worry and is responsive to change during treatment (Lam et al., 2005). Some studies indicate that the PSWQ may be able to discriminate between cases of generalized anxiety disorder and cases of other mental health conditions; however, the cutoff score varies depending on the population being studied (Startup & Erickson, 2006).
In terms of cross-cultural applicability, the PSWQ has been validated in a variety of countries including South Korea (Lee, 2020), Argentina (Rodríguez-Biglieri & Vetere, 2011), Brazil (Castillo et al., 2010), Norway (Pallesen et al., 2006), India (Chhibber & Parikh, 2016), and China (Zhong et al., 2009). However, many of these validation studies utilized convenience samples of university students. Some research finds that the PSWQ may not be a good assessment of worry in older adults (Hopko et al., 2003) with the reverse-scored items and several other items demonstrating poor factor loading.
As with many measures developed and validated in Western cultures, we recommend that the PSWQ be used in conjunction with comprehensive clinical assessments taking a client’s unique sociocultural background into consideration.
As always, if you’ve found a measure you would like adding to Bravely Connect as an automated measure, just drop us a measure request here.
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