Defensive freezing and its relation to approach-avoidance decision-making under threat
Number of pages
SourceScientific Reports, 11, (2021), article 12030
Article / Letter to editor
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PI Group Affective Neuroscience
SW OZ BSI KLP
SW OZ DCC SMN
Subject230 Affective Neuroscience; Action, intention, and motor control; Experimental Psychopathology and Treatment
Successful responding to acutely threatening situations requires adequate approach-avoidance decisions. However, it is unclear how threat-induced states - like freezing-related bradycardia - impact the weighing of the potential outcomes of such value-based decisions. Insight into the underlying computations is essential, not only to improve our models of decision-making but also to improve interventions for maladaptive decisions, for instance in anxiety patients and first-responders who frequently have to make decisions under acute threat. Forty-two participants made passive and active approach-avoidance decisions under threat-of-shock when confronted with mixed outcome-prospects (i.e., varying money and shock amounts). Choice behavior was best predicted by a model including individual action-tendencies and bradycardia, beyond the subjective value of the outcome. Moreover, threat-related bradycardia (high-vs-low threat) interacted with subjective value, depending on the action-context (passive-vs-active). Specifically, in action-contexts incongruent with participants' intrinsic action-tendencies, stronger bradycardia related to diminished effects of subjective value on choice across participants. These findings illustrate the relevance of testing approach–avoidance decisions in relatively ecologically valid conditions of acute and primarily reinforced threat. These mechanistic insights into approach-avoidance conflict-resolution may inspire biofeedback-related techniques to optimize decision-making under threat. Critically, the findings demonstrate the relevance of incorporating internal psychophysiological states and external action-contexts into models of approach-avoidance decision-making.
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