Fear-potentiated startle reactivity and risk for anxiety in adolescents
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The startle blink reflex is an important tool for the study of emotion and psychopathology. Self-reported fearfulness and anxiety influence fear-potentiated startle (Cook et al., 1999) and studies with at risk adolescents (Grillon et al., 1997, 1998, 2005) indicate that fear-potentiated startle and baseline startle magnitude may serve as vulnerability markers for mood and anxiety disorders. These effects appear most pronounced in females (Grillon et al., 2005). Notably, neuroticism, a temperament risk marker for anxiety, as well as the prevalence of anxiety disorders themselves, are higher in females than males (Craske & Waters, 2005). This study evaluated baseline and fear-potentiated startle as a function of neuroticism in adolescents. High school seniors (N=99) underwent several phases including baseline startle, startle context, and safe and threat phases. During threat phases, students anticipated the delivery of a biceps stimulation but were told that no stimulations would be delivered during other phases. The startling stimulus was a 105 dB noise burst. The results revealed that adolescents with higher levels of neuroticism and in particular, higher scores on an anxious arousal subscale, displayed larger startle blinks in all phases. This was most pronounced in high compared with low anxious arousal females, whereas males did not differ. These results accord with recent findings of larger startle blink magnitude during baseline and fear-potentiation protocols in at risk adolescent females (Grillon et al., 2005).
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