Heightened false alarms of conditioned threat predict longitudinal increases in GAD and SAD symptoms over the first year of college

Christopher Hunt, Ryan Fleig, Brandon Almy, Shmuel Lissek

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Lab-based fear-conditioning studies have repeatedly implicated exaggerated threat reactivity to benign (unreinforced) stimuli as concurrent markers of clinical anxiety, but little work has examined the strength of false alarms as a longitudinal predictor of anxiety problems. As such, we tested whether heightened false alarms of conditioned threat assessed in participants’ first semester of college predicted second-semester symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) and social anxiety disorder (SAD) – two anxiety conditions that are common in college students, have been associated with excessive false alarms, and have yet to be assessed with longitudinal conditioning designs. Here, we focused on the predictive effects of behavioral threat responses (threat expectancy, subjective anxiety, avoidance) given their greater potential for translation to the clinic. Results implicate conditioning-related increases in anxiety to safe stimuli resembling the danger-cue as prospective predictors of GAD. In contrast, SAD was predicted by non-specific elevations in anxiety to a broad set of safe stimuli, as well as by increased threat expectancy toward cues least resembling the conditioned danger cue. These findings suggest that risk for GAD and SAD are captured by distinct, behavioral indicators of false-alarms that may be more feasibly collected in clinical settings compared to alternative experimental anxiety measures like psychophysiological responses.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number102539
JournalJournal of Anxiety Disorders
StatePublished - Apr 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The authors have no acknowledgments.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022


  • Fear conditioning
  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder
  • Longitudinal design
  • Risk factors
  • Social Anxiety Disorder

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Journal Article


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