Publication Details

Blakey, S. M. & Deacon, B. J. (2015). If a safety aid is present, there must be danger: the paradoxical effects of hand sanitizer during a contamination exposure task. Journal of Experimental Psychopathology, 6 (3), 264-277.


Perceptions of danger often arise in the context of feared threat cues, but individuals also rely on other heuristics that lead them to infer danger in ambiguous situations. For example, individuals may interpret their own anxiety or safety-seeking behaviors as indicators of threat. Another potential source of danger information is the mere availability of safety aids in the environment. Although assumed to be helpful, safety aids might paradoxically elicit, rather than alleviate, anxiety. The present study was designed to assess the degree to which concern-relevant safety aids exacerbate distress. Participants (N = 71) completed several self-report measures and engaged in a contamination-related behavioral avoidance task (BAT) in the presence or absence of a 2L hand sanitizer dispenser. Results showed that participants higher in trait contamination aversion and in the presence of hand sanitizer endorsed greater inferences of danger, hypervigilance, peak BAT anxiety and disgust, BAT avoidance, and urges to wash following the BAT. Theoretical and clinical implications of the paradoxical inference of danger from the presence of safety aids are discussed.



Link to publisher version (DOI)

http://dx.doi.org/10.5127/jep.0 40814