Uncontrolled avoidance of threat: Vigilance-avoidance, executive control, inhibition and shifting
Booth, Robert William
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It has been argued that anxious individuals orient their attention initially towards and then away from threat; this pattern is known as vigilance-avoidance. While the mechanisms underlying the initial vigilance have been subject to intense speculation and study, mechanisms underlying any subsequent avoidance have been neglected, although it has often been assumed that avoidance is a controlled coping strategy. Using a correlational design, the present study assessed avoidance in a dot-probe task, along with anxiety and two aspects of goal-driven executive control: Shifting and inhibition. Avoidance of threat correlated with state of anxiety; separate from this, avoidance also correlated negatively with shifting performance and was unrelated to inhibition performance. In other words, avoidance appeared to represent a shifting failure in this study. These results suggest that avoidance may occur ballistically in any individual as a consequence of threat exposure and does not necessarily represent a controlled coping response.