Date of Award


Publication Type

Doctoral Thesis

Degree Name




First Advisor

Abeare, Christopher




Mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI) has been identified as a major public health concern that places individuals at risk for psychological distress, including anxiety (Mooney & Speed, 2001). Research employing rodent models of mTBI have suggested that changes in aversive conditioning underlie this increased risk, and separate models examining psychological and behavioural factors have identified dysfunctional illness representations and coping as potential mechanisms. The present study included 30 participants (15 concussed athletes, 15 non-concussed non-athletes) that were matched on age, education, and both past and current anxiety and depression. All participants completed measures of coping and emotional symptoms (depression, anxiety, and stress), provided two salivary cortisol samples (at the beginning and end of the experiment), and completed two classical conditioning tasks (pleasant and aversive) while heart rate and skin conductance responses were recorded. Background information, including history of head injuries, was collected for all participants. Concussed athletes completed an additional measure of illness representations. The results indicate that athletes demonstrated faster reaction times to the conditioned stimulus during the acquisition phase of the aversive task, and higher expectancy ratings to the conditioned stimulus during the generalization phase of both the pleasant and aversive task. Further exploratory analyses also revealed a pattern in which athletes had higher expectancy ratings to the conditioned stimulus in the first trial of both the generalization and extinction phases of both tasks. There were no differences in any of the other measures of associative learning, or in cortisol-related stress responses. In terms of coping, approach coping strategies were found to partially mediate the relationship between illness beliefs of personal control and post-concussive symptoms. In addition, correlations between cyclical timeline beliefs and poor outcome were identified. Implications and directions for future research are discussed.