Reinforcement sensitivity, depression and anxiety: A meta-analysis and meta-analytic structural equation model

Benjamin A. Katz*, Kathryn Matanky, Gidi Aviram, Iftah Yovel

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

53 Scopus citations


Reinforcement Sensitivity Theory (RST) posits that individual differences in reward and punishment processing predict differences in cognition, behavior, and psychopathology. We performed a quantitative review of the relationships between reinforcement sensitivity, depression and anxiety, in two separate sets of analyses. First, we reviewed 204 studies that reported either correlations between reinforcement sensitivity and self-reported symptom severity or differences in reinforcement sensitivity between diagnosed and healthy participants, yielding 483 effect sizes. Both depression (Hedges’ g =.99) and anxiety (g = 1.21) were found to be high on punishment sensitivity. Reward sensitivity negatively predicted only depressive disorders (g = −.21). More severe clinical states (e.g., acute vs remission) predicted larger effect sizes for depression but not anxiety. Next, we reviewed an additional 39 studies that reported correlations between reinforcement sensitivity and both depression and anxiety, yielding 156 effect sizes. We then performed meta-analytic structural equation modeling to simultaneously estimate all covariances and control for comorbidity. Again we found punishment sensitivity to predict depression (β =.37) and anxiety (β =.35), with reward sensitivity only predicting depression (β = −.07). The transdiagnostic role of punishment sensitivity and the discriminatory role of reward sensitivity support a hierarchical approach to RST and psychopathology.

Original languageAmerican English
Article number101842
JournalClinical Psychology Review
StatePublished - Apr 2020

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020


  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Meta-analytic structural equation modeling
  • Reinforcement Sensitivity Theory
  • Reward processing


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