Predicting Anxiety Disorders
Anxiety disorders, including panic disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder, are chronic conditions that persist if left untreated. Now, in the most detailed study of its kind, psychologists are starting to unravel the mechanisms underlying neuroticism that can eventually lead to anxiety disorders. UCLA Professor Michelle Craske and colleagues are half way into an evaluation of 650 students who were just 16 years old when the study began. Researchers from Northwestern University are also involved with the study.
The research team are attempting to learn more about the factors that cause anxiety and depression. "We're trying to learn what factors place adolescents at risk fro the development of anxiety and depression, what is common between anxiety and depression, and what is unique to each," Craske said.
Neuroticism can be thought of as the tendency to experience negative emotions like fear, shame, anger or sadness. High levels of neuroticism predict both anxiety and depression. According to Craske's research, people with high levels neuroticism fail to distinguish between safe and threatening events. So, while a person with high neuroticism will react appropriately to a real situation of threat, they will have additional and unnecessary anxiety to surrounding conditions.
Although 25 percent of the US population experience anxiety disorders, Craske was surprised to find that many of her sample of young volunteers already had experience of anxiety or mood disorders at the start of the study. "Over twenty percent had a current or past anxiety disorder and 30 percent had a current or past mood disorder," Craske said.
Once a year, the volunteers who are now 20 years old, undergo a comprehensive evaluation. This is backed up by a six monthly self-report questionnaire. According to Craske, this is the first time that physiological, cognitive and personality measures, along with life stressors, have been analyzed together in a longitudinal study.
Professor Craske has also just published the results of a study looking at anxiety in 7-12 year olds. Children with anxious parents are 3.5 times more at risk for anxiety themselves. Like the adolescent study currently being undertaken, anxiety and risk for anxiety was found to be associated with an elevation in reaction to threat and impaired abilities to inhibit these responses in the presence of ‘safe cues'.
New Insights Into Teenagers and Anxiety Disorders. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 18, 2008, from http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/09/080915165832.htm