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Differentiating anxiety from fear: An experimental-pharmacological approach

Lippold, J. V., Ettinger, U., Hurlemann, R., Corr, P. J. ORCID: 0000-0002-7618-0058, Reuter, M. and Perkins, A. M. (2020). Differentiating anxiety from fear: An experimental-pharmacological approach. Personality Neuroscience,


Gray’s theory of personality postulates that fear and anxiety are distinct emotional systems with only the latter being sensitive to anxiolytic drugs. His work was mainly based on animal research and translational studies validating his theory are scarce. Previous work in humans showed an influence of the benzodiazepine lorazepam on both systems, however, dependent on dosage (1 and 2mg) and personality differences in negative emotionality. The present study aims to replicate these findings, and in addition tests the drug threshold effect by introducing a lower dosage of 0.5mg lorazepam.

Fifty healthy adults (23 males, agemean 22.40, SD±3.68) participated in an experimental threat-avoidance paradigm designed to dissociate risk assessment intensity (RAI, reflecting anxiety) and flight intensity (FI, reflecting fear) and completed two self-report questionnaires assessing facets of negative emotionality (Spielberger Trait Anxiety Inventory and Fear Survey Schedule). In a randomized placebo-controlled within-subject design, 0.5mg and 1mg of lorazepam were applied per os. Saccadic peak velocity was assessed by means of eye-tracking in order to control for sedating drug effects.

Results showed the expected and specific anxiolytic effect of lorazepam on RAI, however only in the 0.5mg condition. FI was not influenced by lorazepam and previous findings of interaction effects of lorazepam with self-reported negative emotionality could not be corroborated.

Overall, this study demonstrates anxiolytic effects of lorazepam in dosages ≤ 1mg in the absence of a drug effect on fear using a translational behavioural task. However, a putative moderating role of personality on defensive behaviour has to be clarified in future research.

Publication Type: Article
Additional Information: This article has been published in a revised form in Personality Neuroscience This version is free to view and download for private research and study only. Not for re-distribution or re-use. © 2020, the authors.
Publisher Keywords: fear, anxiety, revised-Reinforcement-Sensitivity-Theory, lorazepam
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology
R Medicine > RC Internal medicine > RC0321 Neuroscience. Biological psychiatry. Neuropsychiatry
Departments: School of Arts & Social Sciences > Psychology
[img] Text - Accepted Version
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