Startle Response in Behaviorally Inhibited Adolescents With a Lifetime Occurrence of Anxiety Disorders

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Abstract

Objective:

Behaviorally inhibited children face increased risk for anxiety disorders, although factors that predict which children develop a disorder remain poorly specified. The current study examines whether the startle reflex response may be used to differentiate between behaviorally inhibited adolescents with and without a history of anxiety.

Method:

Participants were assessed for behavioral inhibition during toddlerhood and early childhood. They returned to the laboratory as adolescents and completed a fear-potentiated startle paradigm and a clinical diagnostic interview (Schedule for Affective Disorders and Schizophrenia for School-Age Children-Present and Lifetime Version). Magnitude of the startle reflex was examined at baseline and during cues associated with safety and threat.

Results:

Only adolescents who showed high levels of behavioral inhibition and had a lifetime occurrence of anxiety disorders showed increased startle reactivity in the presence of safety cues. Neither behavioral inhibition nor diagnosis was related to startle reactivity during threat cues.

Conclusions:

These results suggest that neurobiological measures, such as the startle reflex, may be a potential risk marker for the development of anxiety disorders among behaviorally inhibited adolescents. These methods may enhance our ability to identify vulnerable individuals before the development of anxious psychopathology.

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