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Threat of shock promotes passive avoidance, but not active avoidance

Affandi, AHB; Pike, AC; Joe Robinson, O; (2021) Threat of shock promotes passive avoidance, but not active avoidance. European Journal of Neuroscience 10.1111/ejn.15184. Green open access

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Abstract

Anxiety and stress are adaptive responses to threat that promote harm avoidance. In particular, prior work has shown that anxiety induced in humans using threat of unpredictable shock promotes behavioral inhibition in the face of harm. This is consistent with the idea that anxiety promotes passive avoidance—that is, withholding approach actions that could lead to harm. However, harm can also be avoided through active avoidance, where a (withdrawal) action is taken to avoid harm. Here, we provide the first direct within‐study comparison of the effects of threat of shock on active and passive avoidance. We operationalize passive avoidance as withholding a button press response in the face of negative outcomes, and active avoidance as lifting/releasing a button press in the face of negative outcomes. We explore the impact of threat of unpredictable shock on the learning of these behavioral responses (alongside matched responses to rewards) within a single cognitive task. We predicted that threat of shock would promote both active and passive avoidance, and that this would be driven by increased reliance on Pavlovian bias, as parameterized within reinforcement‐learning models. Consistent with our predictions, we provide evidence that threat of shock promotes passive avoidance as conceptualized by our task. However, inconsistent with predictions, we found no evidence that threat of shock promoted active avoidance, nor evidence of elevated Pavlovian bias in any condition. One hypothetical framework with which to understand these findings is that anxiety promotes passive over active harm avoidance strategies in order to conserve energy while avoiding harm.

Type: Article
Title: Threat of shock promotes passive avoidance, but not active avoidance
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
DOI: 10.1111/ejn.15184
Publisher version: http://doi.org/10.1111/ejn.15184
Language: English
Additional information: This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. The images or other third party material in this article are included in the Creative Commons license, unless indicated otherwise in the credit line; if the material is not included under the Creative Commons license, users will need to obtain permission from the license holder to reproduce the material. To view a copy of this license, visit http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/
UCL classification: UCL
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Brain Sciences
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Brain Sciences > Div of Psychology and Lang Sciences
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Brain Sciences > Div of Psychology and Lang Sciences > Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10124913
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