Cognitive Therapy and Research

, Volume 15, Issue 5, pp 371–386

Memory bias in panic disorder: An investigation of the cognitive avoidance hypothesis


  • Marylene Cloitre
    • Department of Psychology-Graduate FacultyNew School for Social Research and New York State Psychiatric Institute
  • Michael R. Liebowitz
    • New York State Psychiatric Institute

DOI: 10.1007/BF01173032

Cite this article as:
Cloitre, M. & Liebowitz, M.R. Cogn Ther Res (1991) 15: 371. doi:10.1007/BF01173032


Individuals with panic disorder (n = 14) and normal controls (n = 14) performed two different memory tasks: a high-speed recognition task that measured perceptual memory (memory for the sensory/perceptual features of a stimulus) and a free recall task that measured semantic memory (memory for the meaning associated with the stimulus). Subjects' memory for threatening, positive, and neutral words was evaluated. In contrast to normal controls, panic disorder patients showed better perceptual memory and better semantic memory for threat words compared to positive and neutral words. These results suggest that the panic disorder individuals engaged in preferential processing of threat information at both a perceptual and semantic level of analysis. The results do not support a “cognitive avoidance” hypothesis which predicts the inhibition of more elaborate and meaningful processing of threat stimuli in anxious subjects. The conditions under which cognitive avoidance might occur are outlined.

Key words

panic disordermemory biascognitive avoidance

Copyright information

© Plenum Publishing Corporation 1991