Behavioral Inhibition and the Associative Learning of Fear



Fear and anxiety symptoms can be acquired through (1) a direct traumatic experience, (2) the transmission of verbal information, and (3) vicarious (observational) learning. All three pathways have gained empirical support, and all appear to conform to predictions made by theories of Pavlovian associative learning. Consequently, a number of integrated models of fear learning based on associative learning principles have been proposed. Field and Purkis’ (Anxiety disorders in children and adolescents: Research, assessment and intervention, 2011) model suggests that learning experiences evoke links between a neutral stimulus (CS) and threat-related US. Therefore, a single mechanism underlies all three fear learning pathways, and thus the pathways can have additive and multiplicative effects on the strength of the CS-US link. Crucially, the model acknowledges the role of individual differences in learning. This chapter will discuss the evidence demonstrating the influence of two temperamental constructs, behavioral inhibition (the tendency to react to a novel or unfamiliar situation with excessive apprehension and avoidance) and the behavioral inhibition system (a neurological system, which is linked to behavioral inhibition, that controls the experience of anxiety in response to anxiety-relevant cues). In particular, the chapter will explore the effect of behavioral inhibition and the behavioral inhibition system on both the strength of the CS-US link formed during a learning episode, as well as post-learning processes. Taken together, it is clear that behavioral inhibition interacts with the associative learning of fear to facilitate fear learning.


Behavioral inhibition Associative learning Fear learning Vicarious observation Phobia 


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© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyMiddlesex UniversityLondonUK
  2. 2.School of PsychologyUniversity of SurreyGuildfordUK
  3. 3.School of PsychologyUniversity of SussexBrightonUK

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