The contextual malleability of approach-avoidance training effects: approaching or avoiding fear conditioned stimuli modulates effects of approach-avoidance training

Published in: Cognition and Emotion, Volume 32, Issue 2, 341-349

“Previous research showed that the repeated approaching of one stimulus and avoiding of another stimulus typically leads to more positive evaluations of the former stimuli. In the current study, we examined whether approach and avoidance training (AAT) effects on evaluations of neutral stimuli can be modulated by introducing a regularity between the approach-avoidance actions and a positive or negative (feared) stimulus. In an AAT task, participants repeatedly approached one neutral non-word and avoided another neutral non-word. Half of the participants also approached a negative fear-conditioned stimulus (CS+) and avoided a conditioned safe stimulus (CS−). The other half of the participants avoided the CS+ and approached the CS−. Whereas participants in the avoid CS+ condition exhibited a typical AAT effect, participants in the approach CS+ condition exhibited a reversed AAT effect (i.e. they evaluated the approached neutral non-word as more negative than the avoided non-word). These findings provide evidence for the malleability of the AAT effect when strongly valenced stimuli are approached or avoided. We discuss the practical and theoretical implications of our findings.”

Written by: Gaetan Mertens, Pieter Van Dessel, Jan De Houwer
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