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The effect of social anxiety on the acquisition and extinction of low-cost avoidance

Wake, S. ORCID:, Van Reekum, C. M. ORCID: and Dodd, H. ORCID: (2021) The effect of social anxiety on the acquisition and extinction of low-cost avoidance. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 146. 103967. ISSN 0005-7967

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To link to this item DOI: 10.1016/j.brat.2021.103967


Excessive avoidance and safety behaviours are a hallmark feature of social anxiety disorder. However, the conditioning and extinction of avoidance behaviour in social anxiety is understudied. Here, we examined the effect of individual differences in social anxiety on low-cost operant avoidance conditioning and extinction in 80 female participants. We employed an avoidance conditioning and extinction paradigm and measured skin conductance response, threat expectancy ratings and avoidance behaviour throughout the task. Findings demonstrated that elevated levels of social anxiety predicted the generalisation of conditioned avoidance responses across to safety cues during avoidance conditioning. When the opportunity to avoid was returned after the threat extinction phase, elevated social anxiety was associated with increased avoidance behaviour to threat cues. The results suggest that compromised extinction of avoidance behaviour is a characteristic of social anxiety and supports the strategy of minimising avoidance and safety behaviours during exposure therapy for the treatment of social anxiety disorder. Future research should utilise the avoidance conditioning and extinction paradigm as a laboratory model for clinical research to investigate how, and under what circumstances, the extinction of avoidance and safety behaviours can be improved for individuals high in social anxiety.

Item Type:Article
Divisions:Life Sciences > School of Psychology and Clinical Language Sciences > Department of Psychology
ID Code:100442


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