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"Classical Learning Acquisition and Vagal Modulation in Behaviorally Inhibited Young Adults:
Towards a Learning-Diathesis Model of Anxiety Etiology"

by
Jacqueline L. Holloway
Integrative Neurosciences Program
B.A. 2000, Villanova University
M.S. 2006, Seton Hall University



Thesis Advisor: Richard J. Servatius, Ph.D.
Professor
Department of Neurology and Neurosciences

Tuesday, June 25, 2013
11:00 A.M., MSB H-609


Abstract

Behavioral inhibition is identified as a risk factor for the development of anxiety disorders, yet the mechanisms driving the progression from anxiety risk to frank pathology remain less certain. Appreciation for the role of classical conditioning in disorder etiology, as well as the pervasive nature of cognitive and behavioral avoidance is increasingly acknowledged in clinical anxiety research. However, no work to date has examined the influence of inhibited temperament on defensive new motor learning or the acquisition of avoidance using non-aversive cues. A comprehensive understanding of psychopathology as it relates to inhibited temperament is further limited by the absence of work examining physiological correlates of inhibited behavior in young adults. Such indices provide important insight regarding the manner by which BI individuals process cues and thus learn about causative relationships in their environment. In the present work, anxiety vulnerability is examined within the scope of a learning-diathesis model, which is proposed as a mechanism promoting psychopathology in behaviorally inhibited individuals. Inhibited individuals demonstrate a propensity for facilitated acquisition of defensive responses, which is augmented by enhanced attention to cues independent of valence, and reflected in vagal activation. Together, an evaluation of individual differences in conditioned response acquisition and autonomic reactivity is presented in an effort to determine how temperament-related biases modulate interactions between individuals and their environment, and thus shape the trajectory of anxiety development via defensive learning acquisition.


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