Date of Award

Fall 11-16-2023

Document Type

Open Access Thesis

Degree Name

Doctor of Psychology (PsyD)



First Advisor

Dr. Abigail Hughes-Scalise

Second Advisor

Dr. Marcia Bennett

Third Advisor

Dr. Shmuel Lissek


The purpose of this study was to examine the potential underlying mechanisms of generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) including fear generalization, maladaptive avoidance, and intolerance of uncertainty (IU) in a sample of adults with GAD, as compared to healthy controls in the context of a lab-based fear conditioning paradigm. The current study utilized data from the University of Minnesota ANGST Laboratory’s Danger Zone – Research Domain Criteria (DZ-RDoC) neuroimaging study. Participants consisted of 40 individuals ranging from ages 18-60, with 19 meeting criteria for GAD (M age = 30.57, SD = 11.70) and 21 healthy controls (M age = 32.86, SD = 13.56) meeting no disorder criteria based on the Structured Clinical Interview for the DSM-IV (SCID-IV) (First & Gibbon, 2004). Participant risk ratings and avoidance decisions were used to measure fear generalization and level of avoidance to a given stimulus type throughout the fear-conditioning paradigm. Overall, findings from this study suggest that individuals with GAD did not differ from healthy controls in their fear generalization and generalized avoidance behavior within the context of this paradigm. Both groups demonstrated appropriate, adaptive generalization of fear to the threat cue and inhibition of fear as stimuli less resembled that threat cue, which was contrary to the initial hypotheses. Higher levels of IU were observed in individuals with GAD compared to healthy controls, but IU did not moderate the effect of GAD on fear generalization or maladaptive avoidance. Limitations of the study are discussed, and suggestions are made for future research and implications for clinical practice. Broadly, results of this study suggest that further research on the underlying mechanisms of GAD and other anxiety and related disorders is warranted.


SC 11.PsyD.2023.Hartnell.M