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Dec 06, 2005

Anticipation of Public Speaking in Virtual Reality Reveals a Relationship Between Trait Social Anxiety and Startle Reactivity

Biol Psychiatry. 2005 Nov 30;

Authors: Cornwell BR, Johnson L, Berardi L, Grillon C

Startle reflex modification has become valuable to the study of fear and anxiety, but few studies have explored startle reactivity in socially threatening situations. METHODS: Healthy participants ranging in trait social anxiety entered virtual reality (VR) that simulates standing center-stage in front of an audience to anticipate giving a speech and count backward. We measured startle and autonomic reactivity during anticipation of both tasks inside VR after a single baseline recording outside VR. RESULTS: Trait social anxiety, but not general trait anxiety, was positively correlated with startle before entering VR and most clearly during speech anticipation inside VR. Speech anticipation inside VR also elicited stronger physiologic responses relative to anticipation of counting. CONCLUSIONS: Under social-evaluative threat, startle reactivity showed robust relationships with fear of negative evaluation, a central aspect of social anxiety and clinical social phobia. Context-specific startle modification may be an endophenotype for subtypes of pathological anxiety.

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