Fear Generalization in Humans: Systematic Review and Implications for Anxiety Disorder Research.

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Behavior therapy, ISSN: 1878-1888, Vol: 46, Issue: 5, Page: 561-82

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Dymond, Simon; Dunsmoor, Joseph E; Vervliet, Bram; Roche, Bryan; Hermans, Dirk
Elsevier BV
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Fear generalization, in which conditioned fear responses generalize or spread to related stimuli, is a defining feature of anxiety disorders. The behavioral consequences of maladaptive fear generalization are that aversive experiences with one stimulus or event may lead one to regard other cues or situations as potential threats that should be avoided, despite variations in physical form. Theoretical and empirical interest in the generalization of conditioned learning dates to the earliest research on classical conditioning in nonhumans. Recently, there has been renewed focus on fear generalization in humans due in part to its explanatory power in characterizing disorders of fear and anxiety. Here, we review existing behavioral and neuroimaging empirical research on the perceptual and non-perceptual (conceptual and symbolic) generalization of fear and avoidance in healthy humans and patients with anxiety disorders. The clinical implications of this research for understanding the etiology and treatment of anxiety is considered and directions for future research described.