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Impaired stimulus-reinforcement based decision making as indexed by the passive avoidance learning task in patients with Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)

Wednesday, November 06, 2013 — Poster Session I

4:00 p.m. – 6:00 p.m.

FAES Academic Center (Upper-Level Terrace)




  • E.J. Lewis
  • M. Geraci
  • R.J.R Blair
  • D.S. Pine
  • K.S. Blair


There is a preliminary, albeit growing literature, indicating that patients with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) show impairment on decision-making tasks requiring the appropriate representation of reinforcement value. The current study aimed to extend this literature by using the passive avoidance (PA) learning task, where the goal for the participant is to learn to respond to stimuli that engender reward and avoid responding to stimuli that engender punishment. Thirty-nine medication-free patients with GAD and 29 age-, IQ- and gender matched healthy comparison individuals took part in the study. We found that patients with GAD committed significantly more commission (passive avoidance) errors than comparison individuals and that their extent of impairment was associated with their functional impairment as measured by the Global Assessment of Functioning scale. These results link GAD with anomalous decision-making and indicate that a potential problem in reinforcement representation may contribute to the severity of expression of their disorder.

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