Results from a new study at the University of Arkansas show that worrying actually may have healthful benefits – shielding people from the effects of anxiety, at least in the short term.

These protective benefits stem from the way people process potentially threatening information, explained Nathan Williams, assistant professor of psychology and lead investigator on the study.

While anxiety tends to arise from fearful imagery, worry manifests in the form of words, Williams said. This difference is not just a matter of form, but it represents a difference in the way the brain interprets, processes and responds to information. Mental images have more instantaneous power to evoke emotional reaction, and this can lead to less logical, less effective responses to threatening information.