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19-05-2020 | Original Article | Uitgave 5/2020 Open Access

Cognitive Therapy and Research 5/2020

The Impact of Intolerance of Uncertainty and Cognitive Behavioural Instructions on Safety Learning

Cognitive Therapy and Research > Uitgave 5/2020
Shannon Wake, Carien M. van Reekum, Helen Dodd, Jayne Morriss
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The online version of this article (doi:https://​doi.​org/​10.​1007/​s10608-020-10113-4) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.

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Difficulty updating threat associations to safe associations has been observed in individuals who score high in self-reported Intolerance of Uncertainty (IU). Here we sought to determine whether an instruction based on fundamental principles of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy could promote safety learning in individuals with higher levels of IU, whilst controlling for self-reported trait anxiety (STICSA).


We measured skin conductance response, pupil dilation and expectancy ratings during an associative threat learning task in which participants either received a cognitive behavioural instruction or no instruction prior to threat extinction (n = 92).


Analyses revealed that both self-reported IU and STICSA similarly predicted differences in skin conductance response. Only individuals with lower IU/STICSA in the cognitive behavioural instruction condition displayed successful safety learning via skin conductance response.


These initial results provide some insight into how simple cognitive behavioural instructions combined with exposure are applied differently in individuals with varying levels of self-reported anxiety. The results further our understanding of the role of basic cognitive behavioural principles and self-reported anxiety in safety learning.

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