Check out our new paper just out in Behaviour Research and Therapy!
Individual differences in costly fearful avoidance and the relation to psychophysiology
Excessive avoidance behaviour is a cardinal symptom of anxiety disorders. Avoidance is not only associated with the benefits of avoiding threats, but also with the costs of missing out on rewards upon exploration. Psychological and psychophysiological mechanisms contributing to these costly avoidance decisions in prospect of mixed outcomes remain unclear. We developed a novel Fearful Avoidance Task (FAT) that resembles characteristics of real-life approach-avoidance conflicts, enabling to disentangle reward and threat effects. Using the FAT, we investigated individual differences in avoidance behaviour and anticipatory psychophysiological states (i.e. startle reflex and skin conductance) in a relatively large sample of 343 (78 females) participants. Avoidance under acute threat of shock depends on a trade-off between perceived reward and threat. Both increased startle and skin conductance in the absence of threat of shock emerged as predictors of increased avoidance (potentially indicative of fear generalization). Increased avoidance was also associated with female sex and trait anxiety, dependent on reward and threat levels. Our findings highlight distinct possible predictors of heightened avoidance and add to mechanistic understanding of how individual propensity for costly avoidance may emerge. Distinct avoidance typologies based on differential reward and threat sensitivities may have different mechanistic origins and thereby could benefit from different treatment strategies.
Hulsman AM, Kaldewaij R, Hashemi MM, Zhang Wei, Koch SBJ, Figner B, Roelofs K, & Klumpers F. (2021). Individual differences in costly fearful avoidance and the relation to psychophysiology. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 137(103788). https://doi.org/10.1016/j.brat.2020.103788, pdf.