Avoidance of threatening or unpleasant events is usually an adaptive behavioural strategy. Sometimes, however, avoidance can become chronic and lead to impaired daily functioning. Excessive threat-avoidance is a central diagnostic feature of anxiety disorders, yet little is known about whether avoidance acquired in the absence of a direct history of conditioning with a fearful event differs from directly learned avoidance. In the present study, we tested whether avoidance acquired indirectly via verbal instructions and symbolic generalization result in similar levels of avoidance behaviour and threat-beliefs to avoidance acquired after direct learning. Following fear conditioning in which one conditioned stimulus was paired with shock (CS+) and another was not (CS-), participants either learned or were instructed to make a response that cancelled impending shock. Three groups were then tested with a learned CS+ and CS- (learned group), instructed CS+ (instructed group), and generalized CS+ (derived group) presentations. Results showed similar levels of avoidance behaviour and threat-belief ratings about the likelihood of shock across each of the three pathways despite the different mechanisms by which they were acquired. Findings have implications for understanding the aetiology of clinical avoidance in anxiety.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
- Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)