Formal theories have linked pathological anxiety to a failure in fear response inhibition. Previously, we showed that aberrant response inhibition is not restricted to anxiety patients, but can also be observed in anxiety-prone adults. However, less is known about the influence of currently experienced levels of anxiety on inhibitory learning. The topic is highly important as state anxiety has a debilitating effect on cognition, emotion, and physiology and is linked to several anxiety disorders. In the present study, healthy female volunteers performed a fear conditioning task, after being informed that they will have to perform the Trier Social Stress Test task (n = 25; experimental group) or a control task (n = 25; control group) upon completion of the conditioning task. The results showed that higher levels of state anxiety corresponded with a reduced discrimination between a stimulus (CS-) typically followed by an aversive event and a stimulus (CS-) that is never followed by an aversive event both during the acquisition and the extinction phase. No effect of state anxiety on the skin conductance response associated with CS+ and CS- was found. Additionally, higher levels of state anxiety coincided with more negative valence ratings of the CSs. The results suggest that increased stress-induced state anxiety might lead to stimulus generalization during fear acquisition, thereby impairing associative learning.
- state anxiety
- fear conditioning