Amygdala involvement in human avoidance, escape and approach behavior Page: 1

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- Neuroimage. 2010 November 1; 53(2): 769-776. doi:10.1016/j.neuroimage.2010.06.058.
Amygdala involvement in human avoidance, escape and
approach behavior
Michael W Schlund1 ,2,& and Michael F Cataldo 1,2
~Department of Behavioral Psychology, Kennedy Krieger Institute, Baltimore MD, USA
2Department of Psychiatry, Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, Baltimore MD, USA
Many forms of psychopathology and substance abuse problems are characterized by chronic
ritualized forms of avoidance and escape behavior that are designed to control or modify external or
internal (i.e, thoughts, emotions, bodily sensations) threats. In this functional magnetic resonance
Z imaging investigation, we examined amygdala reactivity to threatening cues when avoidance
. responding consistently prevented contact with an upcoming aversive event (money loss). In
Jo addition, we examined escape responding that terminated immediate escalating money loss and
approach responding that produced a future money gain. Results showed cues prompting avoidance,
Escape and approach behavior recruited a similar fronto-striatal-parietal network. Within the
amygdala, bilateral activation was observed to threatening avoidance and escape cues, even though
o money loss was consistently avoided, as well as to the reward cue. The magnitude of amygdala
responses within-subjects was relatively similar to avoidance, escape and approach cues, but
considerable between-subject differences were found. The heightened amygdala response to
avoidance and escape cues observed within a subset of subjects suggests threat related responses can
O be maintained even when aversive events are consistently avoided, which may account for the
Persistence of avoidance-coping in various clinical disorders. Further assessment of the relation
between amygdala reactivity and avoidance-escape behavior may prove useful in identifying
i ndividuals with or at risk for neuropsychiatric disorders.
approach; avoidance; escape; amydala; reward; anxiety
S"Out, damn'd spot; out I say" intoned Lady MacBeth at her imagined blood stained hands, a
vision precipitated by participation in King Duncan's murder. Despite believing "A little water
clears us of this deed," her excessive hand-washing continued, providing a measure of escape
from her psychological demons. While avoidance and escape are natural adaptive behaviors,
many forms of psychopathology and substance abuse problems are characterized by chronic
&Correspondence Michael Schlund, Ph.D. Department of Behavioral Psychology, Kennedy Krieger Institute, 707 N. Broadway,
"+ Baltimore MD 21205, USA.
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Conflict of Interest
The authors report no biomedical financial interests or potential conflicts of interest.

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Schlund, Michael W. & Cataldo, Michael F. Amygdala involvement in human avoidance, escape and approach behavior, article, November 1, 2010; [Amsterdam, Netherlands]. ( accessed October 22, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library,; crediting UNT College of Public Affairs and Community Service.