A contemporary learning theory perspective on the etiology of anxiety disorders: it's not what you thought it was.

Department of PsychologyNorthwestern University, Evanston, IL 60208-2710, USA.
American Psychologist (Impact Factor: 6.87). 02/2006; 61(1):10-26. DOI: 10.1037/0003-066X.61.1.10
Source: PubMed

ABSTRACT The authors describe how contemporary learning theory and research provide the basis for perspectives on the etiology and maintenance of anxiety disorders that capture the complexity associated with individual differences in the development and course of these disorders. These insights from modern research on learning overcome the shortcomings of earlier overly simplistic behavioral approaches, which sometimes have been justifiably criticized. The authors show how considerations of early learning histories and temperamental vulnerabilities affect the short- and long-term outcomes of experiences with stressful events. They also demonstrate how contextual variables during and following stressful learning events affect the course of anxiety disorder symptoms once they develop. This range of variables can lead to a rich and nuanced understanding of the etiology and course of anxiety disorders.

  • [Show abstract] [Hide abstract]
    ABSTRACT: Military personnel, emergency first responders, and others whose work environments include exposure to traumatic events are at risk for developing posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). To help prevent negative sequelae, there is a strong need to identify well-operationalized, empirically supported, theoretically framed models of healthy adaptation to potentially traumatic events. Cognitive-behavioral theories (CBTs) describe etiological factors in trauma, guide research that has identified risk for PTSD, and help develop interventions that can effectively reduce posttrauma symptomatology. In this article, the authors draw on CBT and empirical research on post-traumatic stress to propose possible cognitive-behavioral mechanisms in trauma adaptation. They then suggest directions for future research, including areas for prevention interventions for at-risk professionals.
    Trauma Violence & Abuse 05/2008; 9(2):100-13. · 3.27 Impact Factor
  • Source
    [Show abstract] [Hide abstract]
    ABSTRACT: Current etiological models of anxiety disorders emphasize both internal diatheses, or risk factors, and external stressors as important in the development and maintenance of clinical anxiety. Although considerable evidence suggests personality, genetic, and environmental variables are important to these diathesis-stress interactions, this general approach could be greatly enriched by incorporating recent developments in experimental research on fear and anxiety learning. In this article, we attempt to integrate the experimental literature on fear/anxiety learning and the psychopathology literature on clinical anxiety, identify areas of inconsistency, and recommend directions for future research. First, we provide an overview of contemporary models of anxiety disorders involving fear/anxiety learning. Next, we review the literature on individual differences in associative learning among anxious and non-anxious individuals. We also examine additional possible sources of individual differences in the learning of both fear and anxiety, and indicate where possible parallels may be drawn. Finally, we discuss recent developments in basic experimental research on fear conditioning and anxiety, with particular attention to research on contextual learning, and indicate the relevance of these findings to anxiety disorders.
    Acta Psychologica 04/2008; 127(3):567-80. · 2.26 Impact Factor
  • Source
    [Show abstract] [Hide abstract]
    ABSTRACT: In the mnemonic model of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), the current memory of a negative event, not the event itself, determines symptoms. The model is an alternative to the current event-based etiology of PTSD represented in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (4th ed., text rev.; American Psychiatric Association, 2000). The model accounts for important and reliable findings that are often inconsistent with the current diagnostic view and that have been neglected by theoretical accounts of the disorder, including the following observations. The diagnosis needs objective information about the trauma and peritraumatic emotions but uses retrospective memory reports that can have substantial biases. Negative events and emotions that do not satisfy the current diagnostic criteria for a trauma can be followed by symptoms that would otherwise qualify for PTSD. Predisposing factors that affect the current memory have large effects on symptoms. The inability-to-recall-an-important-aspect-of-the-trauma symptom does not correlate with other symptoms. Loss or enhancement of the trauma memory affects PTSD symptoms in predictable ways. Special mechanisms that apply only to traumatic memories are not needed, increasing parsimony and the knowledge that can be applied to understanding PTSD.
    Psychological Review 11/2008; 115(4):985-1011. · 9.80 Impact Factor

Full-text (2 Sources)

Available from
Jun 2, 2014