Association for Behavior Analysis International

The Association for Behavior Analysis International® (ABAI) is a nonprofit membership organization with the mission to contribute to the well-being of society by developing, enhancing, and supporting the growth and vitality of the science of behavior analysis through research, education, and practice.


31st Annual Convention; Chicago, IL; 2005

Event Details

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Symposium #66
Anxiety, Fear, and Avoidance, Oh My! Toward a Behavior Analytic Experimental Psychopathology of Anxious Suffering
Saturday, May 28, 2005
4:00 PM–5:20 PM
Private Dining Room 1 (3rd floor)
Area: CBM; Domain: Basic Research
Chair: John P. Forsyth (State University of New York, Albany)
Abstract: Behavioral science research is the foundation for legitimate and credible forms of clinical practice and the ethical delivery of mental health services. Experimental psychopathology is a subfield of behavioral science; its aims are to elucidate variables and processes that contribute to the etiology, exacerbation, or maintenance of abnormal behavior and human suffering. Recent developments in the analysis of human language and cognition suggest that many forms of human psychopatholgy can be understood in terms of derived relational responding and the derived transformation of stimulus and response functions. The current symposium consists of four research papers that expand upon these notions to address processes that may explain the shift from adaptive experiences of anxiety and fear to “disordered” experiences of anxiety and fear. Topics span transfer of avoidance and extinction functions via relational networks, the role of context of fear resurgence and relapse, the development of fear of private events as seen in panic disorder, and the role of emotion regulation processes in human suffering. In each case, the relevance of the basic laboratory analysis to our understanding of psychopathology and its treatment is outlined.
Twinges and Flutters Aren’t Bad, They’re Dangerous: An Experimental Analysis of “Fear of Fear” in Panic Disorder
DEAN ACHESON (State University of New York, Albany), John P. Forsyth (State University of New York, Albany)
Abstract: Two core processes that characterize panic disorder are (a) fearful responding focused inward on bodily signs and sensations associated with panic attacks, and (b) the development of anxious apprehension about subsequent panic attacks. In the process, benign bodily cues that precede panic attacks often acquire aversive functions, and can subsequently evoke full blown panic attacks, thus further modifying the aversive functions of antecedent bodily cues in a vicious self-perpetuating cycle. According to contemporary learning accounts, fearful responding to otherwise benign bodily cues and sensations develops via a process of Pavlovian interoceptive fear conditioning (Bouton, Mineka, & Barlow, 2001; Goldstein & Chambless, 1978). To date, there has been no systematic experimental evaluations of the interoceptive conditioning account in humans. Here, we will provide an overview of this account, and describe an experiment wherein we attempted to establish autonomic and self-reported fearful responding to a benign interoceptive conditional stimulus that was paired in a contingency with an aversive interoceptive unconditioned stimulus. The experimental methodology and results will be described broadly, with specific attention to how interoceptive fear conditioning may be integrated within behavior analytic accounts of the etiology and maintenance of anxiety-related problems.
Talk Therapy or Exposure for Avoidance? An Experimental Comparison of Derived Versus Direct Extinction of Avoidance
DAVID E. BARUCH (University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee), Keri R. Brown Popp (University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee), Jonathan W. Kanter (University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee), Bryan T. Roche (National University of Ireland, Maynooth)
Abstract: Several recent studies demonstrate that stimuli can acquire aversive and avoidance-evoking properties by virtue of their participation in relational frames. The aim of this presentation is to review and extend these findings to address extinction and resurgence. Two experiments will be described wherein derived avoidance was demonstrated using a Same and Opposite relational training procedure among arbitrary stimuli. Thereafter, one member of the relational network was established as an Sd for avoidance. In Study 1, some subjects were exposed to an extinction procedure in which the original Sd was presented repeatedly in the absence of an opportunity to avoid and without aversive consequences. Other subjects were exposed to a derived extinction procedure in which only the derived Sd for avoidance was presented in the absence of aversive consequences or the opportunity to avoid. Results showed that the derived extinction procedure eliminated avoidance to the derived and directly trained Sds. Study 2 involved replicating and extending the above findings to examine resurgence of avoidance responding after completion of extinction procedures. These results support the idea that avoidance responding may be treated by targeting derived functions of stimuli and relations among stimuli in verbal networks.
Contextual Effects on Conditioned Emotional Responding Following Extinction: A Laboratory Model of Return of Fear
CARLOS G. FINLAY (State University of New York, Albany), John P. Forsyth (State University of New York, Albany)
Abstract: Exposure-based therapies are the treatments of choice for persons suffering from anxiety disorders. Yet, many treated individuals will later experience some fear reactivation or relapse. The role of context has figured prominently in explaining such “return of fear,” with basic animal studies showing a resurgence in fearful behavior following extinction when animals are returned to the acquisition context or a novel context. The purpose of this presentation is describe this work, and specifically the results of a recent experiment wherein healthy human subjects (N = 61) underwent a respondent differential fear conditioning paradigm. Ambient red and green lighting served as the contextual manipulation across fear acquisition, extinction, and subsequent test phases. In the fear acquisition phase, one arbitrary stimulus (CS+) was repeatedly paired with a 20-s inhalations of 20% CO2-enriched air (US), and a second stimulus (CS-) was presented alone. Autonomic and self-report response domains were assessed as indices of fear conditioning, extinction, and renewal. The results showed that context can function to reestablish fearful responding following extinction. The role of extinction as a secondary stimulus function established to fear stimuli, including verbal processes that might mediate the relation between extinction and fear renewal, will be emphasized.
Emotion Regulation and Human Suffering
JOHN P. FORSYTH (State University of New York, Albany)
Abstract: Emotion regulation simply refers to actions that are designed to influence “which emotions we have, when we have them, and how we experience and express them” (Gross, 2002, p. 282). Putting on a smile at a social gathering, despite feeling and thinking and feeling negatively about the situation, is one example of emotion regulation in action. Though emotion regulation is itself not a dysfunctional process, it can become dysfunctional when the “to be” regulated emotions cannot and need not be regulated, and when the very act of emotion regulation gets in the way of meaningful life activities. The purpose of this presentation is to expand on this basic point by providing an overview of the emerging field of emotion regulation research and psychopathology and its relation with behavior analytic experimental psychopathology research. In so doing, findings from clinical and experimental psychopathology research will be described so as to elucidate processes that make thought and emotion regulation toxic in a clinical sense. Anxiety and fear-related problems will be used as examples throughout; though the basic analysis ought to apply to other forms of human suffering that tend to focus on undesirable private content.



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