The double, fear-driven "passive avoidance/active avoidance" conflict appearing during acquisition of two-way active avoidance, involves high levels of anxiety and a dominant tendency for freezing responses, which in turn run against the appearance of active escape/avoidance behavior. In the present study, by using a large sample genetically heterogeneous (N/Nih-HS) rats, we have tested the hypothesis that rats showing relatively higher levels of context-conditioned freezing (during the initial trials of that task) should show lower efficiency to acquire two-way avoidance behavior, i.e. the prediction that the initial context-conditioned freezing in the shuttle box would be negatively related to avoidance acquisition efficiency. In agreement with such a hypothesis, the results from the three rat subsamples used show that context-conditioned freezing (during the first 5 inter-trial intervals of the 40-trial two-way avoidance session) is negatively correlated (r = -0.34 to r = -0.64, p < 0.001) with two-way avoidance acquisition, in a way that subgroups of rats with extremely high or low levels of freezing markedly differ in their avoidance performance: "high freezer" rats show much worse avoidance acquisition than "low freezers". Moreover, the relationships of conditioned freezing and avoidance acquisition with baseline and fear-potentiated startle, as well as with unconditioned anxiety (in the elevated zero-maze test), have also been studied. Taken collectively, the results indicate that: (i) context conditioned freezing is a reliable (and negative) predictor of two-way avoidance acquisition; (ii) baseline and fear-potentiated startle responses show positive associations with avoidance responding, and (iii) unconditioned anxiety in the elevated zero-maze is also negatively associated with two-way avoidance acquisition. Such patterns of associations are considered to be very informative in regard to the search for (common or differential) neural and genetic mechanisms of different forms of (unlearned or learned) anxious or fear responses. © 2011 Elsevier Inc.
- Conditioned freezing
- Genetically heterogeneous rats
- Passive avoidance
- Startle responses
- Two-way avoidance