Avoidance behaviour is a crucial component of fear and is importantly involved in the maintenance of anxiety disorders. Presumably, fear conditioning leads to avoidance of the feared object or context. A virtual reality contextual fear conditioning paradigm was used to investigate the association between explicit conditioning effects and subsequent avoidance behaviour. Mild electric shocks were administered in one context (anxiety context), but never in a second context (safety context). Subsequent avoidance behaviour was assessed by asking participants to choose two out of three contexts (a neutral context was added) to visit again. Participants avoided the anxiety context, but did not prefer the safety over the neutral context. Participants with substantial conditioning effects, as reflected in differential valence, arousal and anxiety ratings, avoided the anxiety context but not the safety context. In sum, we demonstrated an association between context conditioning effects on an explicit level and later avoidance behaviour.

Contextual fear conditioning, Avoidance, Ratings, Virtual reality
dx.doi.org/10.1080/02699931.2012.656581, hdl.handle.net/1765/120832
Cognition and Emotion
Department of Psychology

Glotzbach-Schoon, E., Ewald, H., Andreatta, M., Pauli, P, & Muehlberger, A. (2012). Contextual fear conditioning effects predict subsequent avoidance behavior. Cognition and Emotion, 26, 1256–1272. doi:10.1080/02699931.2012.656581