Does anxiety sensitivity cause panic symptoms? An experimental investigation
Anxiety sensitivity (AS), also known as the “fear of fear,” refers to the fear of anxiety-related sensations based on beliefs about their harmful physical, social or cognitive consequences (Reiss & McNally, 1985). The present study aimed to directly examine the causal relationship between AS and panic symptoms by experimentally inducing the fear of anxiety-related body sensations in normal individuals and examining the effects on measures of panic symptoms. Data were collected from a college-age sample ( N=63: Control condition n = 30; Experimental condition n = 33). As hypothesized, results indicated that participants in the false feedback condition engaged in more avoidance on a behavioral task, had more catastrophic thoughts specific to fainting, were more vigilant to body sensations specific to fainting, had higher peak anxiety, and experienced more body sensations compared to participants in the control condition. Thus, experimentally-induced anxiety sensitivity in normal individuals produced a pattern of cognitive, affective, and behavioral responses consistent with those observed among individuals with panic disorder. This study provides direct experimental evidence to support the causal role of AS in panic symptoms highlighted in cognitive-behavioral models.