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Far from the threatening crowd: Generalisation of conditioned threat expectancy and fear in COVID-19 lockdown

Simon Dymond Orcid Logo, Gemma Cameron, Daniel Zuj, Martyn Quigley

Learning and Behavior

Swansea University Authors: Simon Dymond Orcid Logo, Gemma Cameron, Daniel Zuj, Martyn Quigley

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Abstract

Fear and anxiety are rarely confined to specific stimuli or situations. In fear generalisation, there is a spread of fear responses elicited by physically dissimilar generalisation stimuli (GS) along a continuum between danger and safety. The current study investigated fear generalisation with a nov...

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Published in: Learning and Behavior
ISSN: 1543-4494 1543-4508
Published: Springer Science and Business Media LLC 2024
Online Access: Check full text

URI: https://cronfa.swan.ac.uk/Record/cronfa65538
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Abstract: Fear and anxiety are rarely confined to specific stimuli or situations. In fear generalisation, there is a spread of fear responses elicited by physically dissimilar generalisation stimuli (GS) along a continuum between danger and safety. The current study investigated fear generalisation with a novel online task using COVID-19-relevant stimuli (i.e., busy or quiet shopping street/mall scenes) during pandemic lockdown restrictions in the United Kingdom. Participants (N = 50) first completed clinically relevant trait measures before commencing a habituation phase, where two conditioned stimuli (CSs; i.e., a busy or quiet high street/mall scene) were presented. Participants then underwent fear conditioning where one conditioned stimulus (CS+) was followed by an aversive unconditioned stimulus (US; a loud female scream accompanied by a facial photograph of a female displaying a fearful emotion) and another (CS-) was not. In a test phase, six generalisation stimuli were presented where the US was withheld, and participants provided threat expectancy and fear ratings for all stimuli. Following successful conditioning, fear generalization was observed for both threat expectancy and fear ratings. Trait worry partially predicted generalised threat expectancy and COVID-19 fear strongly predicted generalised fear. In conclusion, a generalisation gradient was evident using an online remote generalisation task with images of busy/quiet streets during the pandemic. Worry and fear of COVID-19 predicted fear generalisation.
Keywords: Generalisation; Threat expectancy; Fear conditioning; COVID-19; Worry
College: Faculty of Medicine, Health and Life Sciences
Funders: This work was supported by a Ser Cymru Welsh Government Office for Science (Ser Cymru Tackling COVID-19) grant (WG Project Number 95).