Date of Award

8-2009

Level of Access

Campus-Only Thesis

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Psychology

Advisor

Sandra T. Sigmon

Second Committee Member

Jeffrey E. Hecker

Third Committee Member

Geoffrey L. Thorpe

Abstract

Anxiety Sensitivity (AS) has been identified as a primary cognitive risk factor for spontaneous panic attacks and development of Panic Disorder. Women consistently report higher levels of AS than men; however researchers have not been able to sufficiently explain this gender difference. Current biopsychosocial theories suggest that the influence of gender-specific variables such as the menstrual cycle may be responsible. In addition, the mechanism by which AS contributes to the development of panic has been debated. Traditional theories of AS suggest that individuals high in AS respond to stressors both with increased physiological arousal and subjective distress than individuals low in AS. Recent research has also started to consider the relationship of AS to coping strategies and its influence on recovery from stress. The goal of the present study was to compare psychophysiological and self-reported responding to and recovery from a 7%, 15-minute carbon dioxide challenge task during two phases of the menstrual cycle (follicular and late luteal) for a nonclinical sample of women. Results indicated that there were no differences by menstrual cycle phase group with regard to psychophysiological responding to the task; however women in the late luteal phase responded with more self-reported anxiety and panic symptoms than women in the follicular phase. Further, menstrual cycle phase, but not AS, predicted self-reported but not psychophysiological reactivity both immediately following the task and after a 10-minute recovery period. Overall, results provide support for cognitive theories of AS and contribute to a growing literature emphasizing the role of menstrual cycle effects in the experience of anxiety and panic symptoms. In addition, results highlight the need to attend to discrepancies between the psychophysiological and subjective stress response. Limitations of the current study and implications for future research are discussed.

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