The role of freezing responses in approach-avoidance decision-making under threat

Wednesday 5 June 2024, 12:30 pm
PhD candidate
F.H. Klaassen
prof. dr. K. Roelofs
dr. B.C. Figner, dr. L.D. de Voogd

Everyday, we make decisions to approach or avoid situations that may lead to either positive or negative consequences. Effectively dealing with such approach-avoidance conflict situations is crucial to maximize potential reward and simultaneously minimize potential physical and psychological harm. Unfortunately, arbitrating approach-avoidance decisions is not always trivial and can go awry when performed under acute threat. In the face of acute threat, defensive freezing might provide a critical window that facilitates this decision-making process. In this thesis, I aimed to clarify the relation between defensive freezing states and the neurocognitive mechanisms underlying approach-avoidance decision-making. My studies provide new evidence that freezing states are associated with enhanced processing and comparison of the potential threat and reward outcomes of approach-avoidance decisions, and that (stronger) integration of reward and threat value during freezing is supported by (rhythmic) activity in the dmPFC. Potentially, during freezing states, approach-avoidance decision-making becomes more contingent on the (integration of) potential reward and threat outcomes. Together, my findings are in line with an important role for defensive freezing states in adaptively coping with approach-avoidance situations. My findings suggest that the way we trade-off the potential outcomes of our decisions depends on the current physiological state.

Felix Klaassen (1992) obtained his Research Master's degree in Cognitive Neuroscience from Radboud University in Nijmegen in 2016. After working as a research assistant at the Donders Institute for several years, he started his PhD research with Professor Karin Roelofs (Experimental Psychopathology and Affective Neuroscience lab – Donders Institute and Behavioural Science Institute of Radboud University) in 2019.