Date Approved


Degree Type

Open Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department or School


Committee Member

Ellen Koch, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Jennifer Glass, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Renee Lajiness-O'Neill, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Thomas Waltz, Ph.D.


Anxiety sensitivity (AS) is a multifaceted construct based on individual beliefs that anxiety symptoms and sensations will have harmful consequences. In general, literature demonstrates three underlying dimensions of AS: fear of cognitive dyscontrol (i.e., cognitive concerns), fear of physiological anxiety sensations (i.e., physical concerns), and fear of negative evaluation (i.e., social concerns). Elevated AS and underlying dimensions have been shown to underlie psychopathology, including anxiety and depression broadly, and are predictive of fear responding in the context of behavioral challenge paradigms whereby individuals with elevated AS demonstrate higher fear and sympathetic nervous system activation. To date, few studies have investigated AS alongside heart rate variability (HRV), a biomarker of autonomic activity. Like AS, HRV has been well studied in clinical samples. High-frequency heart rate variability (HF-HRV), which indexes parasympathetic activity, has been shown to be lower among clinical samples, relative to controls and during behavioral challenge paradigms designed to induce stress. Lower HF-HRV has shown associations with other traits thought to underlie psychopathology (e.g., worry, difficulty with thought suppression). The present study sought to explore a plausible relationship between AS and HRV. Participants were recruited from the Eastern Michigan University campus community to take part in a brief online screening using the Anxiety Sensitivity Index-3 (ASI-3). Participants with normative (n = 60) and high (n = 60) levels of AS were invited to participate in an in-person study whereby HRV and participant-reported subjective distress were measured at baseline and during engagement in three behavioral challenge paradigms. Challenges were designed to induce mild distress related to underlying AS dimensions (i.e., cognitive, physical, and social concerns). Study findings revealed high AS participants to exhibit significantly greater increases in distress following each challenge, relative to baseline, than normative AS participants. After controlling for variance due to age, HF-HRV was significantly higher among normative AS participants at baseline and during the social challenge, compared with high AS participants. Unexpected findings also arose , whereby, after controlling for age, normative AS participants demonstrated significantly higher low-frequency HRV at baseline and during physical and social challenges, relative to high AS participants. .

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Psychology Commons