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19-05-2015 | Uitgave 4/2015

Journal of Psychopathology and Behavioral Assessment 4/2015

Allelic Variation of Risk for Anxiety Symptoms Moderates the Relation Between Adolescent Safety Behaviors and Social Anxiety Symptoms

Journal of Psychopathology and Behavioral Assessment > Uitgave 4/2015
Sarah A. Thomas, Justin W. Weeks, Lea R. Dougherty, Melanie F. Lipton, Samantha E. Daruwala, Kathryn Kline, Andres De Los Reyes


Social anxiety often develops in adolescence, and precedes the onset of depression and substance use disorders. The link between social anxiety and use of behaviors to minimize distress in social situations (i.e., safety behaviors) is strong and for some patients, this link poses difficulty for engaging in, and benefiting from, exposure-based treatment. Yet, little is known about whether individual differences may moderate links between social anxiety and safety behaviors, namely variations in genetic alleles germane to anxiety. We examined the relation between adolescent social anxiety and expressions of safety behaviors, and whether allelic variation for anxiety moderates this relation. Adolescents (n = 75; ages 14–17) were recruited from two larger studies investigating measurement of family relationships or adolescent social anxiety. Adolescents completed self-report measures about social anxiety symptoms and use of safety behaviors. They also provided saliva samples to assess allelic variations for anxiety from two genetic polymorphisms (BDNF rs6265; TAQ1A rs1800497). Controlling for adolescent age and gender, we observed a significant interaction between social anxiety symptoms and allelic variation (β = 0.37, t = 2.41, p = .02). Specifically, adolescents carrying allelic variations for anxiety evidenced a statistically significant and relatively strong positive relation between social anxiety symptoms and safety behaviors (β = 0.73), whereas adolescents not carrying allelic variation evidenced a statistically non-significant and relatively weak relation (β = 0.22). These findings have important implications for treating adolescent social anxiety, in that we identified an individual difference variable that can be used to identify people who evidence a particularly strong link between use of safety behaviors and expressing social anxiety.

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