Aversive learning and generalization predict subclinical levels of anxiety: a six-month longitudinal study

Bert Lenaert*, Yannick Boddez, James W Griffith, Bram Vervliet, Koen Schruers, Dirk Hermans

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

42 Citations (Web of Science)


The identification of premorbid markers of risk for psychopathology is one of the most important challenges for present-day psychiatric research. This study focuses on behavioral vulnerability factors that contribute to the development of anxiety. Little is known about the role of aversive learning and generalization in the development of pathological anxiety. In this study, a large student sample (N=375) completed a differential aversive learning task followed by a test of generalization. Anxiety was assessed at that moment and after a six-month follow-up. Results showed that both predictors (discrimination learning and generalization) added significantly to the explained variance in anxiety symptomatology at follow-up. These results highlight the importance of longitudinal designs and indicate that screening for individual differences in aversive learning and generalization may foster prediction of anxiety disorders, paving the way for targeted prevention.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)747-53
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Anxiety Disorders
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2014


  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Anthracenes
  • Anxiety
  • Association Learning
  • Discrimination Learning
  • Disease Susceptibility
  • Fear
  • Female
  • Generalization (Psychology)
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Prospective Studies
  • Test Anxiety Scale
  • Young Adult

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