Learning of anxiety sensitivity and anxiety symptoms in youth

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Anxiety sensitivity (AS; the fear of anxiety-related bodily sensations) has been earmarked as a significant risk factor in the development and maintenance of pathological anxiety in adults and children. Given

Anxiety sensitivity (AS; the fear of anxiety-related bodily sensations) has been earmarked as a significant risk factor in the development and maintenance of pathological anxiety in adults and children. Given the potential implications of heightened AS, recent research has focused on investigating the etiology and developmental course of elevated AS; however, most of this work has been conducted with adults and is retrospective in nature. Data from college students show that early anxiety-related learning experiences may be a primary source of heightened AS levels, but it remains unclear whether AS in children is linked to their learning experiences (i.e., parental reinforcement, modeling, punishment, and/or transmission of information about anxiety-related behaviors). Based on AS theory and its iterations, an emerging theoretical model was developed to aid further exploration of the putative causes and consequences of heightened AS levels. Using a sample of 70 clinic-referred youth (ages 6 to 16 years old; 51.4% Hispanic/Latino), the present study sought to further explicate the role of learning in the development of AS and anxiety symptoms. Results suggest that childhood learning experiences may be an important precursor to heightened AS levels and, subsequently, increased experiences of anxiety symptoms. Findings also indicate that some youth may be more vulnerable to anxiety-related learning experiences and suggest that culture may play a role in the relations among learning, AS, and anxiety symptoms.