Category: Child / Adolescent - Anxiety
Anxiety sensitivity, or the belief that physiological symptoms associated with anxiety have severe implications, serves an influential role in the development and maintenance of anxiety disorders. Yet, there is little research examining the predictive power of anxiety sensitivity on negative self-cognitions in childhood such as expectancies of physical harm. Negative self-cognitions often exacerbate impairment. For example, a child experiencing frequent negative thoughts about the likelihood of future physical threat (i.e., harm expectancies, including the likelihood of injury to self or loved ones) may become withdrawn, avoid potentially risky activities, and frequently worry about the health and safety of caregivers.
This study assesses the effect of anxiety sensitivity on harm expectancies in childhood and evaluates several potential moderators (i.e., child age, gender, and ethnicity). Two measures were used for this study: the Childhood Anxiety Sensitivity Index (an 18-item measure on anxiety sensitivity) and the Children’s Automatic Thoughts Scale (a 40-item questionnaire on frequency of negative self-cognitions), specifically the Physical Threat subscale (10 items measuring frequency of harm expectancies). 193 youth participated in this study from a larger dataset collected at a university-affiliated community mental health clinic. Participants were between the ages of 8 and 16 years (M=11.15; SD=2.38) and chiefly male (62.7%). Most identified as White (80.3%), and fewer identified as Black (11.4%), Hispanic (1.0%), Asian (1.6%), or Mixed Race/Other (1.6%).
Child anxiety sensitivity emerged as a significant predictor of harm expectancies (b=.51, t(191)= 8.27, pb= -.18, t(191)= -2.46, p=.015), with younger children reporting more frequent harm expectancies than older children overall. There were no main effects of child gender or child ethnicity on harm expectancies (p=.64 and .27, respectively). However, child age was a significant moderator of the relationship between child anxiety sensitivity and harm expectancies (ΔR2 = .02, F(1, 189) = 4.95, p=.027); at high levels of anxiety sensitivity, younger children experienced more frequent harm expectancies than older children. These results suggest that anxiety sensitivity may have a differential impact by age on harm expectancies, which has significant assessment and treatment implications. Future studies should further clarify the reciprocal influences of childhood anxiety sensitivity and negative self-cognitions.
Clinical Psychology Graduate Student
Louisiana State University
Baton Rouge, Louisiana