Date of Graduation

5-2012

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Psychology (PhD)

Degree Level

Graduate

Department

Psychological Science

Advisor

Jeffrey M. Lohr

Committee Member

Matthew T. Feldner

Second Committee Member

William H. Levine

Abstract

Hypochondriasis and health anxiety are characterized by preoccupation with the fear of currently having a serious physical illness. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders conceptualization of hypochondriasis does not include consideration of the fear of acquiring an illness; however, many individuals with severe health anxiety report concern about contamination, suggesting that the current conceptualization of hypochondriasis may be incomplete. The present study utilized behavior approach tasks (BATs) to examine the degree to which contamination fear is present in severe health anxiety. Additionally, perceived vulnerability to disease (PVD) and disgust were tested as potential mechanisms in health anxiety and contamination fear. Results showed that health anxious individuals were similarly avoidant of sources of contamination, and reported similar anxiety and disgust in response to the BATs. Regression analyses showed that PVD, but not disgust, potentiated the effect of both health anxiety and contamination fear in the prediction of disgust experienced during the BATs. The theoretical and clinical implications of these findings are discussed.

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