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Working hard to avoid: Fixed-ratio response effort and maladaptive avoidance in humans

Simon Dymond Orcid Logo, Weike xia, Keith Lloyd Orcid Logo, Michael W Schlund, Daniel Zuj

Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, Volume: 76, Issue: 8, Pages: 1889 - 1912

Swansea University Authors: Simon Dymond Orcid Logo, Weike xia, Keith Lloyd Orcid Logo, Daniel Zuj

Abstract

Maladaptive avoidance of safe stimuli is a defining feature of anxiety and related disorders. Avoidance may involve physical effort or the completion of a fixed series of responses to prevent occurrence of, or cues associated with, the aversive event. Understanding the role of response effort in the...

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Published in: Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology
ISSN: 1747-0218 1747-0226
Published: SAGE Publications 2023
Online Access: Check full text

URI: https://cronfa.swan.ac.uk/Record/cronfa61197
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Abstract: Maladaptive avoidance of safe stimuli is a defining feature of anxiety and related disorders. Avoidance may involve physical effort or the completion of a fixed series of responses to prevent occurrence of, or cues associated with, the aversive event. Understanding the role of response effort in the acquisition and extinction of avoidance may facilitate the development of new clinical treatments for maladaptive avoidance. Despite this, little is known about the impact of response effort on extinction-resistant avoidance in humans. Here, we describe findings from two laboratory-based treatment studies designed to investigate the impact of high and low response effort on the extinction (Experiment 1) and return (Experiment 2) of avoidance. Response effort was operationalised as completion of fixed-ratio (FR) reinforcement schedules for both danger and safety cues in a multi-cue avoidance paradigm with behavioural, self-report, and physiology measures. Completion of the FR response requirements cancelled upcoming shock presentations following danger cues and had no impact on the consequences that followed safety cues. Both experiments found persistence of high response-effort avoidance across danger and safety cues and sustained (Experiment 1) and reinstated (Experiment 2) levels of fear and threat expectancy. Skin conductance responses evoked by all cues were similar across experiments. The present findings and paradigm have implications for translational research on maladaptive anxious coping and treatment development.
Keywords: Avoidance; anxiety; extinction; fear; fixed-ratio schedules; response prevention
College: Faculty of Medicine, Health and Life Sciences
Issue: 8
Start Page: 1889
End Page: 1912