Date of Award


Document Type

Campus Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Clinical Psychology

First Advisor

Sarah Hayes-Skelton

Second Advisor

Lizabeth Roemer

Third Advisor

Stefan Hofmann


The goal of the present study was to investigate perceived external control as a transdiagnostic feature of anxiety, as well as the potential role of a brief acceptance intervention in reducing anxious response to a low control task. Study 1: we collected self-report data via a large online study to explore the relationship between level of anxiety symptomology and level of perceived external control, hypothesizing that greater anxiety would be correlated with lower perceived external control over and above perceived internal control. Results of study 1 showed significant negative correlations between perceived internal and external control and levels of transdiagnostic anxiety. However, contrary to hypotheses, level of perceived external control did not predict level of anxiety over and above perceived internal control. Study 2: next, we invited individuals who scored low and high (excluding middle range) on a transdiagnostic measure of trait anxiety to participate in an experimental study. During the experimental study participants were asked to perform a gambling computer task twice with a monetary reward based on performance as a simulation of a low control environment. Participants were asked to rate their subjective anxiety before and after each trial. We also measured skin conductance, heart rate, and heart rate variability at baseline and throughout each trial as an objective measure of anxious response. After the first trial, participants were randomized into control or a brief acceptance-based intervention condition aimed at accepting low levels of external control and associated emotions and physiological response, before repeating the gambling the task. We examined differences between the acceptance and control groups and between high and low anxiety groups to investigate the potential role of the acceptance intervention on anxious response to the task. Results of study 2 indicated that all participants found the task low on controllability and reported/experienced increases in anxiety/anxious response. The high anxiety group reported greater levels of anxiety throughout the visit on subjective measures of anxiety. There were no differences across groups (high/low or acceptance/control) on psychophysiological measures of anxiety. There was evidence of an effect of anxiety reduction via the acceptance intervention across all participants compared to the control group, but we did not see the hypothesized interaction between group and anxiety level, possibly due in part to sampling randomization failure. Results validate previous research linking low trait perceived control and high trait anxiety in a diverse sample, show a slight anxiety producing effect using a low-control gambling task, and provide some evidence that acceptance-based interventions may provide more adaptive strategies for navigating low control situations. Limitations and future directions are discussed.


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