Is aversive learning a marker of risk for anxiety disorders in children?
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Aversive conditioning and extinction were evaluated in children with anxiety disorders (n=23), at-risk for anxiety disorders (n=15), and controls (n=11). Participants underwent 16 trials of discriminative conditioning of two geometric figures, with (CS+) or without (CS-) an aversive tone (US), followed by 8 extinction trials (4 CS+, 4 CS-), and 8 extinction re-test trials averaging 2 weeks later. Skin conductance responses and verbal ratings of valence and arousal to the CS+/CS- stimuli were measured. Anxiety disordered children showed larger anticipatory and unconditional skin conductance responses across conditioning, and larger orienting and anticipatory skin conductance responses across extinction and extinction re-test, all to the CS+ and CS-, relative to controls. At-risk children showed larger unconditional responses during conditioning, larger orienting responses during the first block of extinction, and larger anticipatory responses during extinction re-test, all to the CS+ and CS-, relative to controls. Also, anxiety disordered children rated the CS+ as more unpleasant than the other groups. Elevated skin conductance responses to signals of threat (CS+) and signals of safety (CS-; CS+ during extinction) are discussed as features of manifestation of and risk for anxiety in children, compared to the specificity of valence judgments to the manifestation of anxiety.
Behaviour Research and Therapy