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This review synthesized and critically reviewed empirical studies that assessed relationships among trauma exposure, anxiety sensitivity (AS), and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Across the literature, the prominent theory conceptualized anxiety sensitivity as a causal risk factor within two competing models. One model posited that individuals with dispositionally high AS prior to experiencing a potentially traumatizing event (PTE) have a greater likelihood of developing PTSD after trauma exposure. The second model theorized that the introduction of a PTE raises an individual’s baseline level of AS, leading to the development and maintenance of PTSD symptoms. Emerging research highlighted the possibility of reciprocal relationships, as well as moderating and mediating variables (e.g., age, gender) that cause differential relationships among the variables of interest. The majority of studies to date used a cross-sectional study design, and primarily relied on a descriptive approach that solely highlighted correlations between AS and PTSD. Consequently, the current state of the literature is still unable to authoritatively discern whether AS causes PTSD, PTSD increases AS, or if the two variables have a bidirectional relationship. Accordingly, extant evidence has only demonstrated that AS is a variable risk factor for the development and maintenance of PTSD symptoms. Current limitations within the literature, clinical implications, and suggestions for future research are discussed.

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anxiety sensitivity, trauma, post-traumatic stress


Clinical Psychology | Psychology

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VCU Graduate Research Posters

Empirical Relationships among Trauma Exposure, Anxiety Sensitivity, and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder