Publication Date


Document Type


First Advisor

Orcutt, Holly K.

Degree Name

Ph.D. (Doctor of Philosophy)

Legacy Department

Department of Psychology


Cognitive psychology; Clinical psychology


As demonstrated via fear-potentiated startle (FPS) paradigms, individuals with fear-based disorders exhibit greater startle responses and a lowered ability to distinguish between fear-related stimuli and safe stimuli (i.e., poor fear inhibition). Physiological indicators of self-regulation, such as respiratory sinus arrhythmia (RSA), appear to be related to the startle response. Therefore, increasing self-regulation may reduce fear load and improve fear inhibition. One method for doing so may be through mindfulness meditation. Using a FPS paradigm, the current study explored the use of mindfulness meditation (as compared to relaxation) as a method of decreasing fear load and enhancing fear inhibition by improving self-regulation (measured by RSA). Participants included 54 female undergraduates (Mage = 20.26) who completed several self-report questionnaires and then underwent the FPS paradigm. Results indicated that both groups exhibited similar increases in self-reported state mindfulness and decreases in tension. Contrary to hypotheses, membership in the relaxation condition predicted greater increase in RSA compared to the mindfulness condition. RSA mediated the relation between study condition and fear inhibition, but not fear load. Results may suggest that longer and/or more frequent mindfulness sessions may be necessary in order for positive effects on RSA to be observed. Limitations and future directions will be discussed.


Advisors: Holly K. Orcutt.||Committee members: Julie Crouch; Tanja Jovanovic; Michelle Lilly; Leslie Matuszewich; Kevin Wu.||Includes bibliographical references.||Includes illustrations.


iv, 124 pages




Northern Illinois University

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