Renewal of fear and avoidance in humans to escalating threat: Implications for translational research on anxiety disorders

Michael W. Schlund, Madonna Ludlum, Sandy K. Magee, Erin B. Tone, Adam Brewer, David M. Richman, Simon Dymond

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


Exposure-based treatment for threat avoidance in anxiety disorders often results in fear renewal. However, little is known about renewal of avoidance. This multimodal laboratory-based treatment study used an ABA renewal design and an approach–avoidance (AP–AV) task to examine renewal of fear/threat and avoidance in twenty adults. In Context A, 9 visual cues paired with increases in probabilistic money loss (escalating threats) produced increases in ratings of feeling threatened and loss expectancies and skin-conductance responses (SCR). During the AP–AV task, a monetary reinforcer was available concurrently with threats. Approach produced the reinforcer or probabilistic loss, while avoidance prevented loss and forfeited reinforcement. Escalating threat produced increasing avoidance and ratings. In Context B with Pavlovian extinction, threats signaled no money loss and SCR declined. During the AP–AV task, avoidance and ratings also declined. In a return to Context A with Pavlovian threat extinction in effect during the AP–AV task, renewal was observed. Escalating threat was associated with increasing ratings and avoidance in most participants. SCR did not show renewal. These are the first translational findings to highlight renewal of avoidance in humans. Further research should identify individual difference variables and altered neural mechanisms that may confer increased risk of avoidance renewal.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)153-171
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2020


  • anxiety
  • approach-avoidance
  • avoidance
  • fear
  • relapse
  • renewal


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