Measuring Anxiety Sensitivity
Rolf A. Peterson Kirsten Plehn George Washington University
The concept of anxiety sensitivity (AS) was first described by Reiss and McNally ( 1985). It was later elaborated by Reiss ( 1987, 1991) to specify various theoretical predictions. Theoretically, AS is predictive of behavior and the development of anxiety reactions in all disorders, which, in part, involve escalating anxiety or escape from or avoidance of AS as part of the pathology. Therefore, AS predicts behaviors that involve escape from and avoidance of anxiety symptoms in a variety of situations and disorders ( Reiss, 1991). The instrument used to measure AS should be related to behaviors and adjustment in all disorders or subtypes of disorders in which anxiety arousal, high physiological arousal, or the presence of strong negative, anxiety-like physiological sensation (e.g., pain sensations) is a component. Thus, measurement of AS needs to be accomplished by an instrument that is predictive across the range of behaviors and disorders that may involve an overreaction to anxiety-like symptoms, escape from anxiety arousal, and avoidance of anxiety arousal.
The Anxiety Sensitivity Index (ASI; Peterson & Reiss, 1992) was developed to test anxiety sensitivity theory. The first published use of the ASI was in 1986 involving a study that tested the prediction that the number of fears a person holds would be correlated with his or her level of anxiety sensitivity ( Reiss, Peterson, Gursky, & McNally, 1986). Since then, a large literature has developed that relates the ASI to a range of anxiety disorders. The ASI has also been used to predict the development of anxiety and panic attacks; ASI scores have been found to be correlated with maladaptive behaviors and poor adjustment in such disorders as