A contemporary learning theory perspective on the etiology of anxiety disorders: it's not what you thought it was

Am Psychol. 2006 Jan;61(1):10-26. doi: 10.1037/0003-066X.61.1.10.


The authors describe how contemporary learning theory and research provide the basis for perspectives on the etiology and maintenance of anxiety disorders that capture the complexity associated with individual differences in the development and course of these disorders. These insights from modern research on learning overcome the shortcomings of earlier overly simplistic behavioral approaches, which sometimes have been justifiably criticized. The authors show how considerations of early learning histories and temperamental vulnerabilities affect the short- and long-term outcomes of experiences with stressful events. They also demonstrate how contextual variables during and following stressful learning events affect the course of anxiety disorder symptoms once they develop. This range of variables can lead to a rich and nuanced understanding of the etiology and course of anxiety disorders.

MeSH terms

  • Agoraphobia
  • Anxiety Disorders / etiology*
  • Anxiety Disorders / psychology*
  • Fear
  • Humans
  • Learning*
  • Phobic Disorders
  • Psychological Theory*