Escape the bear and fall to the lion: The impact of avoidance availability on threat acquisition and extinction.Biol Psychol. 2018 10; 138:73-80.BP
Pervasive avoidance behaviour is a core feature of anxiety disorders. However, little is known about how the availability of avoidance modulates learned threat responding. To assess this question, we recorded avoidance behaviour, electrodermal activity and expectancy ratings in 53 healthy participants during an associative learning paradigm with embedded unavoidable and avoidable trials. When avoidance was available, we observed greater avoidance behaviour for threat versus safety cues, as well as reduced differential skin conductance responses for unavoidable threat versus safety cues. When avoidance was unavailable, as during the extinction phase, we observed sustained differential skin conductance responses for threat versus safety cues. For all phases, we found greater expectancy ratings for threat versus safe cues. Furthermore, greater avoidance behaviour predicted larger differential skin conductance responses to threat versus safety cues during extinction. Overall, the results show that the conditioned response is attenuated during situations where avoidance is available, but it recovers when avoidance is unavailable, subsequently prolonging threat extinction.