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, 11 (2), 201-14

Trait Anxiety: It's Not What You Think It Is


Trait Anxiety: It's Not What You Think It Is

S Reiss. J Anxiety Disord.


Trait anxiety began as a psychodynamic concept, poorly tied to observables, and requiring Freudian defense mechanisms to explain recurrent anxiety episodes. Spielberger's thoughtful efforts improved the concept, but some important limitations remained. Lilienfeld, Turner, and Jacob (1989, 1993, 1996) uncritically accepted Spielberger's work on trait anxiety and asserted that it is the standard against which the concept of anxiety sensitivity should be judged (see also Lilienfeld, 1996). Taylor (1996) and McNally (1989, 1996) distinguished anxiety sensitivity from trait anxiety by noting that, whereas trait anxiety predicts future anxiety generally, anxiety sensitivity predicts future fear to anxiety sensations specifically. An important additional difference is that the two constructs use different indicators (past anxiety experiences versus ASI beliefs) to predict future anxiety and fear. Furthermore, only anxiety sensitivity implies that some phobics perceive the feared object to be harmless; what they fear is an uncontrollable anxiety/panic reaction to the stimulus, not the dangerous nature of the stimulus itself.

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