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The psychophysiology of anxiety disorder: Fear memory imagery

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Address reprint requests to: Peter Lang, Center for the Study of Emotion and Attention, Box 100165, Health Sciences Center, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL 32610, USA. E-mail: langlab@nersp.nerdc.ufl.edu.

Abstract

Psychophysiological response to fear memory imagery was assessed in specific phobia, social anxiety disorder, panic disorder with agoraphobia, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and healthy controls. Heart rate, skin conductance, and corrugator muscle were recorded as participants responded to tone cues signaling previously memorized descriptor sentences. Image contents included personal fears, social fears, fears of physical danger, and neutral (low arousal) scenes. Reactions to acoustic startle probes (eyeblink) were assessed during recall imagery and nonsignal periods. Participants were significantly more reactive (in physiology and report of affect) to fear than neutral cues. Panic and PTSD patients were, however, less physiologically responsive than specific phobics and the socially anxious. Panic and PTSD patients also reported the most anxiety and mood symptoms, and were most frequently comorbidly depressed. Overall, physiological reactivity to sentence memory cues was greatest in patients with focal fear of specific objects or events, and reduced in patients characterized by generalized, high negative affect.

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