Personality Predicts Individual Variation in Fear Learning: A Multilevel Growth Modeling Approach

Femke J. Gazendam*, Jan H. Kamphuis, Annemarie Eigenhuis, Hilde M H Huizenga, Marieke Soeter, Marieke G N Bos, Dieuwke Sevenster, Merel Kindt

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Although fear-learning research has tended to focus on typical responses, there is substantial individual variation in response to threat. Here, we investigated how personality is related to variability in associative fear learning. We used multilevel growth curve modeling to examine the unique and interactive effects of Stress Reaction (SR) and Harmavoidance (HA; Multidimensional Personality Questionnaire scales) and their corresponding higher-order factors on differential fear conditioning (n = 225) and extinction (n = 109; 24–48 hr later). Fear was indexed by fear potentiation of the eyeblink startle reflex. Our findings demonstrated weaker discrimination between threat and safety with high levels of SR. Subsequently, both retention of differential fear acquisition and extinction were weaker with high levels of SR and HA, thereby indicating maladaptive fear learning, whereas they were stronger with low levels of SR and high levels of HA, which suggests efficient fear learning. These findings illustrate how specific personality traits may operate to confer vulnerability or resilience for anxiety disorders.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)175-188
Number of pages14
JournalClinical Psychological Science
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • extinction
  • fear conditioning
  • individual differences
  • Multidimensional Personality Questionnaire
  • multilevel growth curve modeling
  • personality
  • startle response


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