Date of Award

Summer 8-19-2016

Level of Access Assigned by Author

Open-Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




K. Lira Yoon

Second Committee Member

Emily P. Haigh

Third Committee Member

Sandra T. Sigmon

Additional Committee Members

Geoffrey L. Thorpe

Jordan LaBouff


As a group, anxiety disorders represent the most prevalent mental health condition. A hallmark feature of anxiety disorders is avoidant behavior. Along with this, anxious individuals have been shown to exhibit a risk aversion in decision making. However, anxiety disorders are simultaneously highly co-morbid with substance use disorders (e.g., Grant, Stinson, Dawson, & Chou, 2004), suggesting that certain individuals with anxiety disorders engage in particular forms of risk taking. However, much of the current literature on anxiety and risk taking has focused on risk aversion in anxiety, presupposing an inhibited model of anxious responding. In addition, there is little literature which explicitly differentiates between adaptive and maladaptive risk taking or the relevance of context in risk taking, variables which were predicted to be highly important when attempting to interpret risk taking behavior in anxious individuals.

There were three overarching aims of the current study: 1) Investigate etiological and maintenance factors, particularly motivation and emotion regulation, hypothesized to play a role in risk taking behavior in individuals with heightened anxiety; 2) Differentiate between maladaptive (negative) and adaptive (positive) risk taking to examine if type of risk taking behavior is differentially influenced by anxiety; and 3) Investigate the relation between risk taking in the laboratory and naturalistic settings to identify the role of context.

Participants included undergraduate college students enrolled in psychology courses (N = 143). Participants completed a laboratory portion of the study where they completed three computerized tasks to assess risk taking behavior and self-report inventories. The Anxiety Sensitivity Index-3 (ASI-3) was utilized due to its clinical relevance in anxiety disorders. Following the laboratory session, participants completed a naturalistic portion of the study where they completed a week-long diary of their engagement in and perception of different risk taking behaviors.

Contrary to much of the literature on anxiety and risk taking, anxiety sensitivity was not found to be associated with reduced or heightened risk taking for either adaptive or maladaptive risk taking domains. Anxiety sensitivity also did not influence risk taking in laboratory or naturalistic settings. With regards to original aims, it was found that: 1) Anxiety did not interact with predicted moderating variables to influence risk taking behavior; 2) On laboratory tasks, positive risk taking was differentiated from negative risk taking; however, this distinction was not made in naturalistic settings; and 3) Risk taking in the laboratory was not associated with risk taking in real world settings, suggesting that it should not be assumed that findings from laboratory tasks will readily generalize to real world behavior.