Fear renewal occurs when the context changes after fear extinction; however, whether avoidance is also influenced by context changes following fear extinction is untested. Forty-two participants performed an avoidance task within a typical fear renewal procedure. During Pavlovian conditioning, two stimuli (CS+) were associated with an aversive electrical stimulus (US), while a third stimulus was not (CS-). During subsequent avoidance learning, clicking a button canceled the delivery of the US during one but not the other CS+. Fear-related levels were then reduced by removing the US and the button in a new context (fear extinction with response prevention [Ext-RP]). Next, persistence of avoidance was tested in the extinction context B (group ABB) or the original conditioning context A (group ABA). We also tested whether ratings of relief pleasantness (based on both the CS- and the avoided CS+) during avoidance and Ext-RP predicted individual levels of persistent avoidance. Results showed that persistent avoidance was higher in conditioning context A than in extinction context B, and was predicted by higher relief pleasantness during avoidance conditioning. We conclude that persistent avoidance poses a threat to the long-term success of Ext-RP, and we propose that interventions aimed at mitigating the influence of context and relief levels might prove beneficial in this regard.

Anxiety disorders, Avoidance behaviors, Conditioning, Fear extinction, Relief, Reward
dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.brat.2021.103816, hdl.handle.net/1765/134353
Behaviour Research and Therapy
Department of Psychology

Papalini, S. (S.), Ashoori, M. (M.), Zaman, J. (J.), Beckers, T. (T.), & Vervliet, B. (B.). (2021). The role of context in persistent avoidance and the predictive value of relief. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 138. doi:10.1016/j.brat.2021.103816