Biological Aspects of Anxiety Sensitivity: Is It All in the Head?
Murray B. Stein University of California-San Diego
Ronald M. Rapee Macquarie University
Anxiety sensitivity (AS) is the fear of anxiety-related sensations. It is thought to arise from beliefs that these sensations have harmful consequences ( Reiss 1991; Reiss & McNally, 1985). This description of AS -- as a pathological way of viewing and reacting to anxiety symptoms -- certainly sounds like something that must have been learned. However, AS theorists have been careful not to imply that this is the case. In fact, the literature on AS is profoundly bereft of studies of the origins of AS -- studies that ask the question, "How does someone develop high AS?" This leaves open the possibility that AS might be a biological characteristic, much like height or intelligence, which may be predominantly inherited rather than learned. This chapter does not directly address this possibility mainly because definitive data are lacking. What it does attempt to do is review studies that sought to examine biological aspects of anxiety sensitivity in the hope that this can inform the discussion and lead to a testable series of questions about the nature of AS.