Clinical anxiety promotes excessive response inhibition

C. Grillon, O. J. Robinson, K. O'Connell, A. Davis, G. Alvarez, D. S. Pine, M. Ernst

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background Laboratory tasks to delineate anxiety disorder features are used to refine classification and inform our understanding of etiological mechanisms. The present study examines laboratory measures of response inhibition, specifically the inhibition of a pre-potent motor response, in clinical anxiety. Data on associations between anxiety and response inhibition remain inconsistent, perhaps because of dissociable effects of clinical anxiety and experimentally manipulated state anxiety. Few studies directly assess the independent and interacting effects of these two anxiety types (state v. disorder) on response inhibition. The current study accomplished this goal, by manipulating state anxiety in healthy and clinically anxious individuals while they complete a response inhibition task. Method The study employs the threat-of-shock paradigm, one of the best-established manipulations for robustly increasing state anxiety. Participants included 82 adults (41 healthy; 41 patients with an anxiety disorder). A go/nogo task with highly frequent go trials was administered during alternating periods of safety and shock threat. Signal detection theory was used to quantify response bias and signal-detection sensitivity. Results There were independent effects of anxiety and clinical anxiety on response inhibition. In both groups, heightened anxiety facilitated response inhibition, leading to reduced nogo commission errors. Compared with the healthy group, clinical anxiety was associated with excessive response inhibition and increased go omission errors in both the safe and threat conditions. Conclusions Response inhibition and its impact on go omission errors appear to be a promising behavioral marker of clinical anxiety. These results have implications for a dimensional view of clinical anxiety.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)484-494
Number of pages11
JournalPsychological medicine
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2017


  • Anxiety
  • anxiety disorders
  • behavioral inhibition
  • go/nogo
  • threat of shock

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Applied Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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