Temporal dynamics of costly avoidance in naturalistic fears: Evidence for sequential-sampling of fear and reward information

Research output: Contribution to journalResearch articleContributedpeer-review

Contributors

Abstract

Excessive avoidance is characteristic for anxiety disorders, even when approach would lead to positive outcomes. The process of how such approach-avoidance conflicts are resolved is not sufficiently understood. We examined the temporal dynamics of approach-avoidance in intense fear of spiders. Highly fearful and non-fearful participants chose repeatedly between a fixed no spider/low reward and a spider/high reward option with varying fear (probability of spider presentation) and reward information (reward magnitude). By sequentially presenting fear and reward information, we distinguished whether decisions are dynamically driven by both information (sequential-sampling) or whether the impact of fear information is inhibited (cognitive control). Mouse movements were recorded to assess temporal decision dynamics (i.e., how strongly which information impacts decision preference at which timepoint). Highly fearful participants showed stronger avoidance despite lower gains (i.e., costly avoidance). Time-continuous multiple regression of their mouse movements yielded a stronger impact of fear compared to reward information. Importantly, presenting either information first (fear or reward) enhanced its impact during the early decision process. These findings support sequential sampling of fear and reward information, but not inhibitory control. Hence, pathological avoidance may be characterized by biased evidence accumulation rather than altered cognitive control.

Details

Original languageEnglish
Article number102844
JournalJournal of Anxiety Disorders
Volume103
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2024
Peer-reviewedYes

External IDs

PubMed 38428276
ORCID /0000-0002-4408-6016/work/155838590

Keywords

Sustainable Development Goals

Keywords

  • Anxiety Disorders, Approach Avoidance, Avoidance, Decision Making, Phobias