Anxiety sensitivity is present in many people who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and researchers suggest that it may be a predictor of the disorder. Anxiety sensitivity is characterized by a fear of an event or condition that a person considers harmful.
For example, a woman who has suffered a miscarriage may experience anxiety sensitivity with any future pregnancies.
In addition, disgust sensitivity, in which a person imagines a repulsive association with the feeling of disgust, also plays a major role in the development and continuation of anxiety issues. Until now, few studies have looked into how disgust sensitivity and anxiety sensitivity together and independently affect the development of PTSD.
To investigate this further, psychologist Dr. Bunmi O. Olatunji of Vanderbilt University recently led a study which measured the levels of disgust sensitivity, anxiety sensitivity, and emotional regulation in a sample of war veterans who had been exposed to trauma.
He compared the sensitivities and levels of PTSD among 21 veterans with PTSD, 16 without PTSD, and 22 civilians without PTSD. The findings showed that the veterans with PTSD had the highest levels of anxiety sensitivity.
The researchers also discovered that the non-PTSD veterans had the lowest levels of disgust sensitivity when compared to the other two groups.
Olatunji believes that in this sample of participants, a low level of disgust sensitivity served as a protective factor with respect to PTSD onset.
“These preliminary findings suggest that anxiety sensitivity and disgust sensitivity may differ in the extent to which they represent risk or resilience factors for the development of PTSD,” Olatunji said.
Olatunji believes that these results add to the growing body of literature on emotional sensitivity and PTSD, but further research is needed to determine whether sensitivity is a cause or effect of trauma.