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Slow escape decisions are swayed by trait anxiety

Fung, Bowen J. and Qi, Song and Hassabis, Demis and Daw, Nathaniel and Mobbs, Dean (2019) Slow escape decisions are swayed by trait anxiety. Nature: Human Behaviour, 3 (7). pp. 702-708. ISSN 2397-3374. doi:10.1038/s41562-019-0595-5.

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Theoretical models distinguish between neural responses elicited by distal threats and those evoked by more immediate threats. Specifically, slower ‘cognitive’ fear responses towards distal threats involve a network of brain regions including the ventral hippocampus (vHPC) and medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC), while immediate ‘reactive’ fear responses rely on regions such as the periaqueductal grey. However, it is unclear how anxiety and its neural substrates relate to these distinct defensive survival circuits. We tested whether individual differences in trait anxiety would impact escape behaviour and neural responses to slow and fast attacking predators: conditions designed to evoke cognitive and reactive fear, respectively. Behaviourally, we found that trait anxiety was not related to escape decisions for fast threats, but individuals with higher trait anxiety escaped earlier during slow threats. Functional magnetic resonance imaging showed that when subjects faced slow threats, trait anxiety positively correlated with activity in the vHPC, mPFC, amygdala and insula. Furthermore, the strength of functional coupling between two components of the cognitive circuit—the vHPC and mPFC—was correlated with the degree of trait anxiety. This suggests that anxiety predominantly affects cognitive fear circuits that are involved in volitional strategic escape.

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URLURL TypeDescription ReadCube access ItemData and Code
Fung, Bowen J.0000-0001-9177-6725
Mobbs, Dean0000-0003-1175-3772
Additional Information:© 2019 The Author(s), under exclusive licence to Springer Nature Limited. Received 29 May 2018; Accepted 25 March 2019; Published 20 May 2019. Data availability: Behavioural data can be found on the Open Science Framework ( fMRI data are available from the corresponding author on reasonable request. Code availability: Code for all behavioural analyses can be found on the Open Science Framework ( fMRI analysis code is available from the corresponding author on reasonable request. This work was supported by the National Institute of Mental Health (grant 2P50MH094258 to D.M.) and funds from the Tianqiao and Chrissy Chen Institute (P2026052 to D.M.). The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish or preparation of the manuscript. Author Contributions: S.Q., D.H., N.D. and D.M. contributed to the conception and design of the experiment. S.Q. conducted the experiment and collected the data. S.Q. and B.J.F. analysed the data. B.J.F., S.Q. and D.M. drafted the manuscript. All authors reviewed the manuscript and gave final approval for publication. The authors declare no competing interests.
Group:Tianqiao and Chrissy Chen Institute for Neuroscience
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Tianqiao and Chrissy Chen Institute for NeuroscienceP2026052
Issue or Number:7
Record Number:CaltechAUTHORS:20190319-112541972
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Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:93971
Deposited By: George Porter
Deposited On:20 May 2019 16:26
Last Modified:16 Nov 2021 17:02

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