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The Role of Early Experience and Cognitive Vulnerability: Presenting a Unified Model of the Etiology of Panic

Abstract

Cognitive vulnerability models have been developed to explicate the etiology of panic and other anxiety disorders. This study takes a step forward by presenting a unified vulnerability model that incorporates a continuum of proximal and distal factors involved in the etiology of panic. The present study tested distal elements of the model, including childhood histories of vicarious and instrumental learning, and cognitive constructs such as anxiety sensitivity and perceived control. Our study found that parental modeling of the dangerousness of anxiety symptoms accounted for more model variance than from direct experiences with arousal-reactive symptoms or from parental reinforcement of the child’s own sick role behavior when experiencing arousal reactive symptoms. We found that parental modeling independently predicted model variance even when perceived control was included in the model. Our results indicated that low perceived anxiety control and anxiety about bodily symptoms uniquely accounted for variance in the model. Our findings add to the growing body of research and suggest that anxiety about bodily symptoms and low perceived control together may interact to create a stronger distal vulnerability construct for panic than either construct alone in individuals whose childhood caregivers may have modeled fear of anxiety symptoms. The results of this study provide support for the inclusion of distal factors in unified cognitive vulnerability models of panic disorder as well as for future prospective research of these constructs.

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Conflict of Interest

L. K. McGinn, Ph.D., K. B. Nooner, J. Cohen and K. D. Leaberry declare that they have no conflicts of interest, financial disclosures, or grants related to this manuscript.

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All procedures followed were in accordance with the ethical standards of the responsible committee on human experimentation (institutional and national) and with the Helsinki Declaration of 1975, as revised in 2000 (5). Informed consent was obtained from all individual subjects participating in the study.

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No animal studies were carried out by the authors for this paper.

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McGinn, L.K., Nooner, K.B., Cohen, J. et al. The Role of Early Experience and Cognitive Vulnerability: Presenting a Unified Model of the Etiology of Panic. Cogn Ther Res 39, 508–519 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10608-015-9673-9

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Keywords

  • Panic
  • Anxiety sensitivity
  • Perceived control
  • Cognitive vulnerability
  • Etiology
  • Learning models