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Cognitions in the form of mental images have a more powerful impact on emotion than their verbal counterparts. This review synthesizes the cognitive science of imagery and emotion with transdiagnostic clinical research, yielding novel predictions for the basis of emotional volatility in bipolar disorder. Anxiety is extremely common in patients with bipolar disorder and is associated with increased dysfunction and suicidality, yet it is poorly understood and rarely treated. Mental imagery is a neglected aspect of bipolar anxiety although in anxiety disorders such as posttraumatic stress disorder and social phobia focusing on imagery has been crucial for the development of cognitive behavior therapy (CBT). In this review we present a cognitive model of imagery and emotion applied to bipolar disorder. Within this model mental imagery amplifies emotion, drawing on Clark's cyclical panic model [(1986). A cognitive approach to panic. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 24, 461-470]. We (1) emphasise imagery's amplification of anxiety (cycle one); (2) suggest that imagery amplifies the defining (hypo-) mania of bipolar disorder (cycle two), whereby the overly positive misinterpretation of triggers leads to mood elevation (escalated by imagery), increasing associated beliefs, goals, and action likelihood (all strengthened by imagery). Imagery suggests a unifying explanation for key unexplained features of bipolar disorder: ubiquitous anxiety, mood instability and creativity. Introducing imagery has novel implications for bipolar treatment innovation--an area where CBT improvements are much-needed.

Original publication




Journal article


Behav Res Ther

Publication Date





1251 - 1258


Anxiety Disorders, Bipolar Disorder, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Female, Humans, Imagination, Male, Memory, Models, Psychological