Anxiety sensitivity and intolerance of uncertainty facilitate associations between generalized pavlovian fear and maladaptive avoidance decisions

Christopher Hunt, Samuel E. Cooper, Melissa P. Hartnell, Shmuel Lissek

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

46 Scopus citations


Generalization of Pavlovian fear to safe stimuli resembling conditioned-danger cues (CS) is a widely accepted conditioning correlate of clinical anxiety. Though much of the pathogenic influence of such generalization may lie in the associated avoidance, few studies have assessed maladaptive avoidance decisions associated with Pavlovian generalization. Lab-based assessments of this process, here referred to as aversive Pavlovian-instrumental covariation during generalization (APIC-G), have recently begun. The current study represents a next step in this line of work by conducting the first examination of anxiety-related dimensions of personality that may exacerbate APIC-G. Specifically, we test anxiety sensitivity (AS) and intolerance of uncertainty (IU) as moderators of relations between Pavlovian generalization and maladaptive avoidance decisions in 102 undergraduate students with wide-ranging levels of IU and AS. Results indicate a facilitative effect of AS on this APIC-G process, with AS strengthening relations between Pavlovian generalization and maladaptive generalized avoidance whether operationalizing Pavlovian generalization with psychophysiological (fear-potentiated startle) or behavioral measures. Additionally, IU was found to facilitate APIC-G when indexing Pavlovian generalization with behavioral but not fear-potentiated startle measures. Moderating effects of AS were most pronounced for stimulus classes bearing the highest resemblance to CS, whereas effects of IU were most pronounced for the stimulus class with the highest level of threat ambiguity. Results implicate AS and IU as risk factors for the maladaptive decisional correlates of Pavlovian generalization and suggest that established associations between these traits and clinical anxiety may derive, in part, from their enhancement of maladaptive APIC-G.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)315-326
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of abnormal psychology
Issue number4
StatePublished - May 2019

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019 American Psychological Association.


  • Anxiety sensitivity
  • Behavioral avoidance
  • Fear-potentiated startle
  • Generalization of conditioned fear
  • Intolerance of uncertainty
  • Cues
  • Decision Making
  • Uncertainty
  • Avoidance Learning
  • Prospective Studies
  • Character
  • Correlation of Data
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Fear/physiology
  • Transfer, Psychology
  • Young Adult
  • Generalization, Stimulus
  • Arousal
  • Conditioning, Classical
  • Reflex, Startle
  • Adult
  • Female
  • Anxiety/psychology

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Journal Article


Dive into the research topics of 'Anxiety sensitivity and intolerance of uncertainty facilitate associations between generalized pavlovian fear and maladaptive avoidance decisions'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this