Date of Graduation

8-2014

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Psychology (PhD)

Degree Level

Graduate

Department

Psychological Science

Advisor

Matthew T. Feldner

Committee Member

Lindsay S. Ham

Second Committee Member

Ellen W. Leen-Feldner

Abstract

Escape and avoidance behaviors play a prominent role in the maintenance of panic-spectrum difficulties and may also be implicated in the development of such problems. Although the current state of the literature regarding the etiology of these emotion-regulation strategies is relatively underdeveloped, it appears that learning experiences involving parental modeling of such behaviors may be instrumental in the development of panic-relevant escape and avoidance. Given that no tests of such a conceptualization exist at this time, the current study proposed an initial experimental examination of whether parental modeling of defensive reactivity during a well-established biological challenge could impact panic-relevant escape and avoidance among adolescents. Random assignment, stratified by adolescent gender, was utilized to assign 50 adolescents to observe their parents either: a) complete participation in a 3-min voluntary hyperventilation exercise (no escape modeling group); or b) prematurely terminate a similar procedure (escape modeling group). It was predicted that adolescents who observed their parents prematurely terminate participation in the biological challenge would evidence greater escape and avoidance of panic-relevant sensations compared to adolescents who observed their parents complete participation in the same biological challenge. Results were partially consistent with hypotheses. Relative to adolescents in the no escape modeling group, adolescents in the escape modeling group demonstrated a stronger escape response, but not a stronger avoidance response, in relation to the voluntary hyperventilation exercise. Although preliminary, these results suggest that parental behaviors may play an important role in the development of panic-relevant defensive reactivity.

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