Anxiety sensitivity and social attribution

Date of Completion

January 1999


Psychology, Social|Psychology, Clinical




A number of authors have suggested that panic attacks result from the fear of fear, and/or high levels of Anxiety Sensitivity (AS), which is construed as sensitivity to and fear of symptoms of anxiety. More recently, Allen and Sheckley (1992) have suggested that individuals with high levels of AS are more likely to participate in conflictual social relationships. ^ A number of studies have found that individuals with high levels of AS make more negative emotional attributions than do low AS individuals (Dowden and Allen, 1997). Furthermore, Benton and Allen (1996) showed that the dyadic interaction between high AS women and their romantic partners is different from low AS women and their partners. Couples with high AS women were highly reactive to their boyfriends' behavior when they hyperventilated. Low AS women on the other hand, were more reactive to their boyfriends' behavior when they relaxed. ^ These findings suggest that there are differences in the ways in which high and low AS individuals interact socially. The present study was designed to evaluate whether these differences occurred as a function of differential attributional styles among the high and low AS groups. To date the literature has only addressed the effects of AS in women. For the first time that we are aware of, both men and women were evaluated. ^ High and low AS men and women played a game with a confederate who was either warm and supportive or withdrawn and cold. Participants then made attributions about their own performance, and the performance of the confederate. In addition, they also rated how they thought they were perceived by the confederate. Confederates also rated each participant's performance. This design enabled us to evaluate the effect of social valence (warm supportive vs. cold withdrawn) and potential gender differences on social attribution. ^ As hypothesized, high AS individuals made more negative attributions about their own performance, the performance of the confederate, and projections about how they thought the confederate saw them. Interestingly, a number of differential gender effects emerged, which suggests that AS may function differently in men and women. Suggestions for further study are also discussed. ^