Reducing avoidance of learnt fear: Extinction of an imminent threat signal partly decreases costly avoidance to a distal threat signal

Alex H.K. Wong, Andre Pittig*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)

Abstract

In the interplay of fear and avoidance, not only imminent threat signals that directly predict potential threat evoke avoidance, but also distal threat signals that predict these imminent threat signals. Avoidance of learnt fear refers to avoidance to a distal threat signal that prevents the occurrence of an imminent threat signal. In clinical anxiety, it is often pathological given its persistence in the absence of threat and the impairments it inflicts. The current study examined whether fear extinction to an imminent threat signal would effectively reduce avoidance of learnt fear in a sensory preconditioning procedure. Three neutral preconditioning stimuli (PSs), serving as distal threat or safety signals, were paired with three neutral to-be conditioned stimuli (CSs), serving as imminent threat or safety signals. After assessing baseline levels of costly avoidance to the PSs, two CSs were paired with threat. One of these CSs then ceased to predict threat during extinction training. In test, participants showed limited avoidance to the PS that signaled the extinguished CS, however, the level of avoidance was still stronger compared to a PS that signaled a safety CS. Results suggest that exposure to an imminent threat signal partly reduces avoidance to a distal threat.

Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Experimental Psychopathology
Volume14
Issue number2
DOIs
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 31 May 2023

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© The Author(s) 2023.

Research programs

  • ESSB PSY

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