Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry vol:43 issue:2 pages:832-837
Background and Objectives: In a blocking procedure, a single conditioned stimulus (CS) is paired with an
unconditioned stimulus (US), such as electric shock, in the first stage. During the subsequent stage, the
CS is presented together with a second CS and this compound is followed by the same US. Fear conditioning
studies in non-human animals have demonstrated that fear responding to the added second CS
typically remains low, despite its being paired with the US. Accordingly, the blocking procedure is well
suited as a laboratory model for studying (deficits in) selective threat appraisal. The present study tested
the relation between trait anxiety and blocking in human aversive conditioning.
Methods: Healthy participants filled in a trait anxiety questionnaire and underwent blocking treatment in
the human aversive conditioning paradigm. Threat appraisal was measured through shock expectancy
ratings and skin conductance.
Results: As hypothesized, trait anxiety was positively associated with shock expectancy ratings to the
Limitations: In skin conductance responding, no significant effects of stimulus type could be detected
during blocking training or testing. The current study does not allow strong claims to be made regarding
the theoretical process underlying the expectancy bias we observed.
Conclusions: The observed shock expectancy bias might be one of the mechanisms leading to nonspecific
fear in individuals at risk for developing anxiety disorders. A deficit in blocking, or a deficit in
selective threat appraisal at the more general level, indeed results in fear becoming non-specific and
disconnected from the most likely causes or predictors of danger.