Date of Graduation

8-2016

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Psychology (PhD)

Degree Level

Graduate

Department

Psychological Science

Advisor

Ellen Leen-Feldner

Committee Member

Matt Feldner

Second Committee Member

Scott Eidelman

Abstract

Adult research supports the effectiveness of targeting the malleable vulnerability factor of anxiety sensitivity (AS) in terms of preventing panic specifically and anxiety psychopathology generally. Risk factor research suggests AS modification among youth has implications for panic as well as generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). However, very little work has evaluated the impact of AS reduction among youth, which is unfortunate given adolescence is a period of “core risk” in terms of anxiety disorder onset. Further, no work has considered the effect of such a program on GAD-relevant outcomes, nor has any work included family-level intervention factors, despite evidence suggesting parents likely play a critical role in promoting prevention programming. To address these notable gaps in the literature, the primary aim of this project was to experimentally test the effects of an Adolescent Anxiety Sensitivity Amelioration Program (AASAP) among a sample of 69 adolescents (10 to 14 years) with elevated levels of AS. High AS youth and a parent were randomly assigned to either the AASAP, which consists of a single 50min session of psychoeducation as well as experimenter- and parent-led interoceptive exposures, or a general health information control condition. As expected, adolescents in the intervention condition evidenced decreased levels of AS and generalized anxiety symptoms compared to adolescents in the control condition at follow-up. Contrary to hypotheses, however, no differences were detected in panic- and GAD-relevant vulnerability indexed using sophisticated challenge procedures. Findings are discussed in terms of the development of the specified psychosocial intervention program for adolescents targeting empirically supported processes and its short-term effects on anxiety-relevant outcomes.

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