Disentangling Fear and Anxiety in Self–reported Responses to Situational Scripts

Meike Pappens, Laurence Claes, Tine Versleegers, Debora Vansteenwegen, Omer Van den Bergh, Ilse Van Diest


With decreasing threat ambiguity and increasing threat imminence, human psychophysiological responses can be mapped onto a defensive continuum that distinguishes between the states of general anxiety, cued anxiety, and fear. The present study aimed to investigate whether self–reported physiological, cognitive, behavioral and attentional responses can also distinguish between cued anxiety and fear. Healthy participants (N=141) received 9 situational scripts (3 prototypical scripts per phase of the defensive continuum) each followed by 22 responses. They indicated how likely they would display each response in the described situation. The results of an INDCLAS–analysis indicated that the distinction between "cued anxiety" and "fear" can be made on the basis of self–reported responses. Responses typical for fear situations were "fear of dying", "breathing faster", and "feeling of choking". Cued anxiety situations evoked "accelerated heart rate", "to startle", "sharpened senses", "tense muscles" and "sweating". This finding may contribute to constructing an easy tool to distinguish cued anxiety and fear in both clinical and experimental contexts.


human defensive behavior; anxiety; fear; self–report; psychophysiological responses

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