Previous research examining anxiety has traditionally focused on models of fear. More recently, attention has been directed to the role of disgust as an important emotion in the context of certain anxiety disorders. Further, it has been suggested that disgust, a form of evaluative responding, may be resistant to extinction and may contribute to relapse. However, previous work on this has largely relied on self-report ratings. In the current experiment, using a disgust conditioning and extinction procedure, disgust reactions were indeed shown to be resistant to extinction, as indexed by both self-report and an objective behavioral measure (visual avoidance). Furthermore, our research shows that individuals with greater levels of disgust sensitivity exhibit heightened resistance to extinction. In addition, expectancy of the disgusting US during extinction was dissociated from measures of disgust responding. Given that the treatment of choice for anxiety disorders (exposure therapy) is based on models of extinction, this research suggests that current treatments for anxiety disorders may not be adequately targeting disgust reactions, a crucial maintaining factor in certain anxiety disorders. As such, this inattention to disgust reactions may reduce the effectiveness of treatment in the short-term or may leave the patient vulnerable to relapse in the long-term.
- Evaluative conditioning
- Resistance to extinction