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Generalization during aversive decision-making allows us to avoid a broad range of potential threats following experience with a limited set of exemplars. However, over-generalization, resulting in excessive and inappropriate avoidance, has been implicated in a variety of psychological disorders. Here, we use reinforcement learning modelling to dissect out different contributions to the generalization of instrumental avoidance in two groups of human volunteers (N = 26, N = 482). We found that generalization of avoidance could be parsed into perceptual and value-based processes, and further, that value-based generalization could be subdivided into that relating to aversive and neutral feedback - with corresponding circuits including primary sensory cortex, anterior insula, amygdala and ventromedial prefrontal cortex. Further, generalization from aversive, but not neutral, feedback was associated with self-reported anxiety and intrusive thoughts. These results reveal a set of distinct mechanisms that mediate generalization in avoidance learning, and show how specific individual differences within them can yield anxiety.

Original publication

DOI

10.7554/eLife.34779

Type

Journal article

Journal

Elife

Publication Date

08/05/2018

Volume

7

Keywords

anxiety disorders, aversive learning, avoidance, generalization, human, neuroscience, obsessive-compulsive disorder, reinforcement learning, Avoidance Learning, Brain, Decision Making, Generalization, Psychological, Humans, Magnetic Resonance Imaging