Pavlovian to Instrumental Transfer & Avoidance Generalization

Individual differences in fear generalization, generalized avoidance, and Pavlovian to instrumental transfer of fear

Enhanced levels of generalization of the fear response to perceptually similar stimuli (i.e., fear generalization) has been demonstrated to lead to a generalized avoidance response. However, there are many sub-components of both the fear and avoidance process that are differentially influenced by personality substrates. For example, decision making (a core process underlying avoidance of feared stimuli) can be impaired by superordinate personality factors, such as high degree of neuroticism, or more subordinate factors, such as impulsiveness or callousness.  The current study seeks to map the personality and cognitive functioning associated with generalized fear and avoidance, and to take preliminary steps towards predicting fear learning and response based on these factors. In this study we aim to: 1) identify personality and cognitive functioning correlates associated with fear and avoidance generalization; 2) use these correlates to potentially predict fear and avoidance generalization; and 3) apply advanced quantitative techniques (e.g., estimated structural equation modeling) to investigate latent factors of the studied processes.

Individual differences in decision-making and fear learning at various intensity levels

Task-based assessment of fear and avoidance may at times be limited by the failure of such tasks to adequately produce situations sensitive to individual differences in such processes. Namely, such ‘strong situations’ may mask latent, maladaptive tendencies toward the experience of fear and commitment of avoidance that are central to anxiety pathology, by uniformly influencing all individuals (regardless of such tendencies) to make the normative, adaptive response. One tendency that has been historically masked by such strong situations is the fear and avoidance of threats which have high potency but low probability of occurrence (e.g., avoiding air travel for fear of a plane crash). Specifically, while exaggerated fear and avoidance toward high potency/low probability threats is a highly relevant tendency in anxiety disorders and OCD –  lab-based assessment of such a threat combination has yet to be examined. Present study aims examine whether increasingly greater congruence to the situation of high threat potency and low threat probability will facilitate greater associations between fear and avoidance with anxiety-relevant personality measures.