News

Research Award for Andre Pittig from the Faculty of Human Sciences

Andre received the Research Award 2020 from the Faculty of Human Sciences of the University of Würzburg. The award honors excellent scientific contributions of early career researchers.

https://www.uni-wuerzburg.de/aktuelles/einblick/single/news/ausgezeichnet-in-forschung-und-lehre/

New open-access publication: Elevated costly avoidance in anxiety disorders

In this study, we tested for altered avoidance in patients with anxiety disorders compared to matched controls. Using instrumental conditioning, we assessed low‐cost avoidance (avoiding a single aversive outcome) and costly avoidance (avoidance conflicted with gaining rewards). Patients and controls showed frequent low‐cost avoidance without group differences. Controls subsequently inhibited avoidance to gain rewards, but patients failed to reduce avoidance (elevated costly avoidance). Interestingly, elevated costly avoidance was not linked to higher conditioned fear in patients.

Pittig, A., Boschet, J., M., Glück, V. M. & Schneider, K. (in press). Elevated Costly Avoidance in Anxiety Disorders: Patients Show Little Downregulation of Acquired Avoidance in Face of Competing Rewards for Approach. Depression and Anxiety, da.23119.

https://doi.org/10.1002/da.23119

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Postdoc Plus grant for Alex Wong

Alex is awarded a PostDoc Plus grant of 12,500€ by the Graduate School of Life Sciences, Würzburg. This grant will help Alex to run some pilot studies for future grant application. Congratulations!

New lab publications: Generalization of extinction & the role of trait anxiety in fear generalization

Two new papers lead by Alex Wong provide further insights into the generalization of fear acquisition and fear extinction. Check them out:

Wong, A. H. K., Glück, V. M., Boschet, J. M., & Engelke, P. (2020). Generalization of extinction with a generalization stimulus is determined by learnt threat beliefs. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 125, 103755. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.brat.2020.103755

People often infer different relational rules to guide generalization, namely rule-based generalization. Thereby, every individual may have different levels of generalized fear to a given generalization stimulus. Presenting this stimulus in extinction would therefore evoke different levels of expectancy violation. High level of expectancy violation results in robust generalization of extinction, whereas low level of expectancy violation results in limited if any generalization of extinction. This suggests identifying an individual’s strongest threat belief could help maximizing treatment outcome.

If you have no access to the article, please check https://www.researchgate.net/publication/345508496_Generalization_of_extinction_with_a_generalization_stimulus_is_determined_by_learnt_threat_beliefs

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Wong, A. H. K., & Beckers, T. (accepted). Trait anxiety is associated with reduced typicality asymmetry in fear generalization. Behaviour Research and Therapy. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.brat.2021.103802

In human fear conditioning, training with typical category exemplars promotes fear generalization to novel exemplars of the same category, whereas training with atypical category exemplars leads to limited fear generalization to other category members. This pattern amounts to a typicality asymmetry in fear generalization. This study examined how trait anxiety bears on typicality asymmetry in fear generalization. We found that typicality asymmetry in fear generalization was only evident in low anxious individuals, but not in high anxious individuals. This may help explain why some individuals are more likely to exhibit excessive fear generalization after traumatic exposure.

If you have no access to the article, please check
https://www.researchgate.net/publication/342997358_Trait_anxiety_is_associated_with_reduced_typicality_asymmetry_in_fear_generalization

New open-access review

Our comprehensive review on the bi-directional relationship between conditioned fear and avoidance is now available. It covers mechanisms, moderators, and clinical implications oft he distinction between defensive reactions, goal-directed actions, and habitual avoidance. Check out the open-access paper: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.brat.2020.103550

Two new papers

Using a novel paradigm adapted from discounting decision research, we show that high anxious individuals show more avoidance behavior in presence of high competing rewards, but not low competing rewards. See: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jbtep.2019.101524

Alex first paper from his work at our lab shows that categorical fear generalization triggers costly avoidance responses. Check out his great work: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.brat.2020.103606

Teaching award

Andre received this year's teaching award Best seminar for his seminar on the theoretical basics and clinical application exposure therapy. He feels very honored and thanks all students for their great interest and contributions!

Poster award for Valentina Glück

Valentina got awarded for her poster presentation of her project "Conflicts between habitual avoidance and goal-directed approach behaviour" at EMHFC 2019. Juliane and Alex also gave great presentation on their projects on "Temporal dynamics of costly avoidance in newly acquired fears" and "The generalization of costly avoidance in a fear context". Congratulations!

Welcome Paula

Paula Engelke joined our team as a doctoral student. Her research focuses on strategies to enhance the generalization for extinction and their clinical implications for the treatment of anxiety disorders.

New paper: Incentive-based extinction of safety behavior

Maladaptive safety behavior maintains fear and anxiety by prohibiting inhibitory learning about the non-occurrence of feared outcomes (known as protection from extinction). Not engaging in safety behavior, however, requires to act opposite to fear-motivated behavioral tendencies. In our new paper, we demonstrate that safety behavior is frequently executed, persists even in absence of an aversive outcome, and prohibits extinction learning. However, positive outcomes, which are in conflict with performing safety behavior, reduced safety behavior despite equal levels of acquired fear. This fear-opposite action enabls fear extinction and thereby prevents protection from extinction. Open preprint and data here: https://osf.io/e7ghz/