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Emotion. 2013 Jun;13(3):478-84. doi: 10.1037/a0030443. Epub 2012 Nov 19.

The effect of modifying automatic action tendencies on overt avoidance behaviors.

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Joint Doctoral Program in Clinical Psychology, San Diego State University/University of California, San Diego, CA 92120-4913, USA.


We used the Approach-Avoidance Task (AAT) to examine the role of automatic action tendencies. We hypothesized that, after manipulation of automatic action tendencies, participants would be more likely to approach feared objects when compared with participants in a control condition. Participants were instructed to push or pull a joystick, resulting in contamination-related and neutral pictures moving progressively away from or toward them, respectively. We manipulated approach by building a contingency between the arm movement and the picture type in the active condition but not in the control condition. Consistent with our hypothesis, participants in the active manipulation group showed facilitated automatic approach tendencies and reduced avoidance tendencies for contamination-related stimuli and completed more steps approaching their feared objects in a behavioral approach test compared with participants in the control group. Our results suggest that automatic action tendencies may play an important role in the maintenance of fear-related behavioral avoidance.

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