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Biol Psychol. 2013 Apr;93(1):159-66. doi: 10.1016/j.biopsycho.2013.01.011. Epub 2013 Feb 4.

Enhanced discrimination between threatening and safe contexts in high-anxious individuals.

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Department of Psychology, Biological Psychology, Clinical Psychology and Psychotherapy, University of Würzburg, Marcusstr. 9-11, D-97070 Würzburg, Germany.


Trait anxiety, a stable personality trait associated with increased fear responses to threat, is regarded as a risk factor for the development and maintenance of anxiety disorders. Although the effect of trait anxiety has been examined with regard to explicit threat cues, little is known about the effect of trait anxiety on contextual threat learning. To assess this issue, extreme groups of low and high trait anxiety underwent a contextual fear conditioning protocol using virtual reality. Two virtual office rooms served as the conditioned contexts. One virtual office room (CXT+) was paired with unpredictable electrical stimuli. In the other virtual office room, no electrical stimuli were delivered (CXT-). High-anxious participants tended to show faster acquisition of startle potentiation in the CXT+ versus the CXT- than low-anxious participants. This enhanced contextual fear learning might function as a risk factor for anxiety disorders that are characterized by sustained anxiety.

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