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Study offers new insights into teenagers and anxiety disorders
Date:9/15/2008

Can scientists predict who will develop anxiety disorders years in advance? UCLA psychology professor Michelle Craske thinks so. She is four years into an eight-year study evaluating 650 students, who were 16 when the study began, to identify risk factors for the development of anxiety and depression the most comprehensive study of its kind.

Craske and her colleagues are finding that neuroticism the tendency to experience negative emotions such as fear, anxiety, guilt, shame, sadness or anger is a powerful predictor of both anxiety and depression. Newly published research from the long-term study highlights a potential mechanism by which neuroticism confers risk. The researchers report that teenagers who are high in neuroticism appear to become unnecessarily anxious in ways that are out of proportion with actual circumstances.

As part of the study, the students were placed in front of computers and told that when the screen became red and said "Danger," they might receive as many as three small muscle shocks, each one stronger than the last. A countdown bar indicated when the shock was coming; as the bar counted down, the screen became redder. The students were also told that when the screen was green and said "Safe," they would receive no shock.

They then saw eight green and eight red screens, in random order, while researchers used sensors to study their physiological reactions, such as the "startle reflex," which is measured by eye blinks, heart rate and sweat gland activity. (Each participant actually received only one mild shock, during the fourth red screen.)

All participants showed an elevated startle response when the threat of shock was most imminent, during the final countdown on the danger screens; this is the time at which the fear response is most imperative to survival. However, those teenagers high in neuroticism showed a stronger startle response under conditions when the shock was not imminent
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Contact: Stuart Wolpert
swolpert@support.ucla.edu
310-206-0511
University of California - Los Angeles
Source:Eurekalert

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