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Title page for ETD etd-07102014-171913

Type of Document Dissertation
Author Armstrong, Thomas Richard
URN etd-07102014-171913
Title Normative and pathological effects of aversive conditioning on spatial attention
Degree PhD
Department Psychology
Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title
Bunmi O. Olatunji Committee Chair
Adriane E. Seiffert Committee Member
David H. Zald Committee Member
Jennifer Blackford Committee Member
  • disgust
  • anxiety
  • attentional bias
  • conditioning
Date of Defense 2014-06-23
Availability unrestricted
Classical learning theories of anxiety have been criticized for their failure to capture the full complexity of anxiety disorders. To address this limitation, contemporary learning theories have emerged, which acknowledge organismic factors that affect conditioning in its role in the etiology and maintenance of anxiety disorders. However, extant research on learning processes and associated organismic factors in anxiety disorders remains limited. First, there is an exclusive focus on fear learning, despite research suggesting that disgust is the primary emotional response to threat in certain anxiety disorders. Second, relatively little is known about the effects of aversive learning on attention, despite the large body of research on attentional biases for threat, which includes recent findings suggesting that attentional biases are a disease mechanism. Third, it is unclear how individual differences in traits that confer vulnerability for anxiety disorders contribute to dysfunctional fear or disgust learning. The present line of research sought to address these limitations by examining both normative and pathological effects of fear and disgust learning on spatial attention. The first aim was to contrast the acquisition and extinction of attentional biases for conditioned disgust and fear stimuli, and to explore traits that may differentially moderate these learning processes. The second aim was to examine these learning processes in the context of anxiety disorders in which they may be most relevant: the effects of disgust learning on attention were examined in contamination-based obsessive-compulsive disorder, and the effects of fear learning on attention were examined in post-traumatic stress disorder, The present research provides insight into the origins of attentional biases, and suggests a novel stress-diathesis model of associative learning in the etiology of anxiety-related disorders.
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