Out with the old and in with the new: The role of intolerance of uncertainty in reversal of threat and safety
The ability to learn and reverse threat associations is crucial for survival. The extent to which old threat associations are inhibited and new threat associations are formed may depend on sensitivity to future threat uncertainty. To assess the extent to which Intolerance of Uncertainty (IU) predicts threat learning and reversal, we recorded expectancy ratings and skin conductance in 44 healthy participants during an associative learning paradigm, where threat and safety contingencies were reversed. During acquisition and reversal, we observed larger SCR magnitude and expectancy ratings for threat vs. safety cues. However, during reversal higher IU was associated with larger SCR magnitude to new threat vs. new safety cues, compared to lower IU. These results were specific to IU-related variance, over shared variance with trait anxiety (STAIX-2). Overall, these findings suggest that individuals high in IU are able to reverse threat and safety associations in the presence of direct threat. Such findings help us understand the recently revealed link between IU and threat extinction, where direct threat is absent. Moreover, these findings highlight the potential relevance of IU in clinical intervention and treatment for anxiety disorders.