Learning and Anxiety

Peter F. Lovibond

in Associative Learning and Conditioning Theory

Published in print March 2011 | ISBN: 9780199735969
Published online May 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780199894529 | DOI:
Learning and Anxiety

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Traditionally, it has been assumed that associative learning is carried out by a low-level, reflexive, unconscious system, and accordingly associative explanations of clinical disorders have focused on irrational aspects of those disorders. However, research on human associative learning suggests that it depends critically on high-level, propositional, conscious processes. This perspective opens the door for an associative account of cognitive features of disorders, such as beliefs (rational and irrational). This chapter explores such an account, with a focus on anxiety. It argues that learned anxiety involves the development of threat beliefs regarding associations between antecedent stimuli and harmful outcomes. Performance is an automatic expectancy-based process. Threat expectancy and anxiety are also modulated by instrumental actions such as avoidance and safety behaviors. Threat beliefs may be established by direct experience, observation, language, and inference. Effective treatment can best be achieved by a coordinated combination of these same pathways.

Keywords: anxiety; expectancy; propositional learning; contingency awareness; threat beliefs

Chapter.  10825 words. 

Subjects: Cognitive Psychology

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