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The ‘Threat of Scream’ paradigm: a tool for studying sustained physiological and subjective anxiety

Abstract : Progress in understanding the emergence of pathological anxiety depends on the availability of paradigms effective in inducing anxiety in a simple, consistent and sustained manner. The Threat-of-Shock paradigm has typically been used to elicit anxiety, but poses ethical issues when testing vulnerable populations. Moreover, it is not clear from past studies whether anxiety can be sustained in experiments of longer durations. Here, we present empirical support for an alternative approach, the 'Threat-of-Scream' paradigm, in which shocks are replaced by screams. In two studies, participants were repeatedly exposed to blocks in which they were at risk of hearing aversive screams at any time vs. blocks in which they were safe from screams. Contrary to previous 'Threat-of-Scream' studies, we ensured that our screams were neither harmful nor intolerable by presenting them at low intensity. We found higher subjective reports of anxiety, higher skin conductance levels, and a positive correlation between the two measures, in threat compared to safe blocks. These results were reproducible and we found no significant change over time. The unpredictable delivery of low intensity screams could become an essential part of a psychology toolkit, particularly when investigating the impact of anxiety in a diversity of cognitive functions and populations.
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Submitted on : Tuesday, September 15, 2020 - 10:16:25 AM
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Morgan Beaurenaut, Elliot Tokarski, Guillaume Dezecache, Julie Grèzes. The ‘Threat of Scream’ paradigm: a tool for studying sustained physiological and subjective anxiety. Scientific Reports, 2020, 10 (1), pp.12496. ⟨10.1038/s41598-020-68889-0⟩. ⟨inserm-02938750⟩

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