Date Awarded


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (M.A.)




Christopher Conway

Committee Member

Elizabeth Raposa

Committee Member

Matthew Hilimire


Physiological stress reactivity is closely linked to emotional disorders like depression and anxiety and is believed to play a causal role in their development. Similar patterns of exaggerated reactivity across a wide range of emotional disorders indicate that physiological hyperreactivity to stress may be a multifinal, or shared, risk factor for these disorders. However, current literature examines stress reactivity in only one or two disorders at a time and is based off categorical classification systems that assume mental disorders to be discrete entities. Recent research into the observed distribution of symptoms of mental illness contests this assumption and proposes that some mental disorders have shared developmental factors that can be revealed through dimensional models of psychopathology. One dimensional model of mental disorders, the Hierarchical Taxonomy of Psychopathology, addresses this limitation by placing symptoms of internalizing disorders within a dimensional, hierarchically arranged model. The current study utilized this hierarchical model to investigate the relationship between physiological reactions to a laboratory stressor and symptoms of emotional disorders. in a sample of 201 college students, we used latent variable modeling techniques to parse symptoms of emotional disorders into their common (higher-order) and unique (lower-order) features, then examined the strength of the relationship between physiological stress reactivity and common versus unique elements. We hypothesized that common features of emotional disorders would be more strongly related to stress reactivity than any of the unique features. Our results suggested that neither common nor unique features were significantly related to physiological stress reactivity. This finding contradicts previous investigations that found evidence for exaggerated physiological responses in individuals with emotional disorders. Our study improves upon previous research by examining the full range of symptoms of emotional disorders, and our conclusion suggests that the relevance of physiological response in emotional disorders should be critically examined, particularly in light of the limitations of traditional classification systems.



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