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Clin Psychol Rev. 2016 Nov;49:1-15. doi: 10.1016/j.cpr.2016.07.002. Epub 2016 Jul 25.

The effects of safety behaviors during exposure therapy for anxiety: Critical analysis from an inhibitory learning perspective.

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University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, United States. Electronic address:
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, United States.


In the context of clinical anxiety, safety behaviors are actions performed to prevent, escape, or minimize feared catastrophes and/or associated distress. Research consistently implicates safety behaviors in the development and maintenance of anxiety disorders; accordingly, safety behaviors are traditionally eliminated during exposure treatments for pathological anxiety. The notion that safety behaviors are ubiquitously deleterious in the context of exposure has recently been challenged, yet findings regarding safety behaviors' effects on exposure outcomes are limited, mixed, and controversial. Furthermore, developments in explanatory models for exposure's effectiveness (e.g., inhibitory learning theory) highlight other possible consequences of safety behaviors performed during exposure. Unfortunately, these theoretical advances are neglected in experimental research. The present review critically examines the literature addressing the role of safety behaviors in exposure therapy from an inhibitory learning perspective. Limitations, future directions, and clinical recommendations are also discussed.


Exposure therapy; Inhibitory learning; Safety behaviors

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