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Emotion. 2012 Dec;12(6):1393-7. doi: 10.1037/a0029143. Epub 2012 Jul 9.

Durable effects of cognitive restructuring on conditioned fear.

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  • 1Department of Psychology, Stanford University, USA.


Studies of cognitive reappraisal have demonstrated that reinterpreting a stimulus can alter emotional responding, yet few studies have examined the durable effects associated with reinterpretation-based emotion regulation strategies. Evidence for the enduring effects of emotion regulation may be found in clinical studies that use cognitive restructuring (CR) techniques in cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) to alleviate anxiety. These techniques are based on cognitive theories of anxiety that suggest these disorders arise from biased cognitions; therefore, changing a person's thoughts will elicit durable changes in an individual's emotional responses. Despite the considerable success of CBT for anxiety disorders, durable effects associated with emotion regulation have not been thoroughly examined in the context of a laboratory paradigm. The goal of this study was to determine whether CR, a technique used in CBT and similar to cognitive reappraisal, could attenuate conditioned fear responses, and whether the effect would persist over time (24 hr). We conditioned participants using images of snakes or spiders that were occasionally paired with a mild shock to the wrist while we obtained subjective fear reports and electrodermal activity (EDA). After conditioning, half of the participants were randomly assigned to CR training aimed at decreasing their emotional response to the shock and the conditioned stimuli, while the other half received no such training. All participants returned 24 hr later to repeat the conditioning session. Compared with control participants, CR participants demonstrated a reduction in fear and EDA across sessions. These findings suggest that CR has durable effects on fear responding.

PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2012 APA, all rights reserved.

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