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Cogn Emot. 2014;28(1):46-58. doi: 10.1080/02699931.2013.799062. Epub 2013 Jun 7.

Does anxiety sensitivity correlate with startle habituation? An examination in two independent samples.

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a Department of Psychology , University of Illinois at Chicago , Chicago , IL , USA.


Individuals with anxiety disorders have previously demonstrated abnormal habituation to aversiveness over time. As anxiety sensitivity (AS), or an individuals' propensity to fear of anxiety-related sensations, has been shown to be a risk factor for anxiety disorders (particularly panic disorder), the present study examined whether AS was also associated with abnormal habituation. This association was examined in two independent samples of undergraduates (Ntotal=178). Habituation was operationalised as the reduction in startle response to multiple startle probes presented over 2.5 minutes and three definitions of this reduction were employed. Results indicated that individuals with higher levels of AS evidenced deficits in startle habituation, but the strength of this relationship was somewhat dependent on the definition of startle habituation, with the most robust definition being an analysis of participants' individual slopes across all nine blinks. The present findings suggest that startle habituation is a key mechanism underlying AS, and may help elucidate the role this risk factor plays in the pathogenesis of anxiety disorders.

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