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J Abnorm Psychol. 2013 May;122(2):322-38. doi: 10.1037/a0030747. Epub 2012 Nov 12.

A psychophysiological investigation of threat and reward sensitivity in individuals with panic disorder and/or major depressive disorder.

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Department of Psychology, University of Illinois-Chicago, Chicago, IL 60607, USA.


Heightened sensitivity to threat and reduced sensitivity to reward are potential mechanisms of dysfunction in anxiety and depressive disorders, respectively. However, few studies have simultaneously examined whether these mechanisms are unique or common to these disorders. In this study, sensitivity to predictable and unpredictable threat (measured by startle response during threat anticipation) and sensitivity to reward (measured by frontal electroencephalographic [EEG] asymmetry during reward anticipation) were assessed in 4 groups (N = 191): those with (1) panic disorder (PD) without a lifetime history of depression, (2) major depression (MDD) without a lifetime history of an anxiety disorder, (3) comorbid PD and MDD, and (4) controls. General distress/negative temperament (NT) was also assessed via self-report. Results indicated that PD (with or without comorbid MDD) was uniquely associated with heightened startle to predictable and unpredictable threat, and MDD (with or without comorbid PD) was uniquely associated with reduced frontal EEG asymmetry. Both psychophysiological measures of threat and reward sensitivity were stable on retest approximately 9 days later in a subsample of participants. Whereas the comorbid group did not respond differently on the tasks relative to the PD-only and MDD-only groups, they did report greater NT than these 2 groups (which did not differ from each other). Results suggest that heightened sensitivity to threat and reduced sensitivity to reward may be specific components of PD and MDD, respectively. In addition, relative to noncomorbid depression and PD, comorbid MDD and PD may be characterized by heightened NT, but not abnormal levels of these "specific" components.

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