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Behav Res Ther. 2007 Sep;45(9):2002-18. Epub 2007 Mar 6.

Contextual control of human fear associations in a renewal paradigm.

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Department of Clinical Psychology, University of Amsterdam, Roetersstraat 15, 1018 WB Amsterdam, The Netherlands.


The original model of behavior change suggests that extinction is context dependent whereas fear acquisition is context independent [Bouton, M. E. & Ricker, S. T. (1994). Renewal of extinguished responding in a second context. Animal Learning and Behavior, 22, 317-324]. Supportive evidence stems mainly from animal studies, showing that after acquisition (conditioned stimulus-unconditioned stimulus (CS-US)) in Context A and extinction in Context B, fear is renewed by presenting the CS in acquisition Context A (ABA renewal) or in a novel Context C (ABC renewal). By implication, the model predicts equal ABA and ABC renewal. However, there is also evidence to suggest that the context dependency of extinction and the context independency of acquisition may be less stringent than originally proposed. The present study investigated renewal in humans using a differential fear conditioning paradigm with a shock US and online shock expectancy ratings and electrodermal responses as dependent variables. Experiment 1 compared an ABA condition with an AAA condition. Experiment 2 compared three conditions: ABA, ABC, and AAA. Both experiments demonstrated ABA renewal. Most importantly, Experiment 2 showed larger ABA than ABC renewal. Overall, results for expectancy ratings were more convincing than for electrodermal responses. In line with the extinction model, the present findings support the context dependency of extinction in humans. In contrast to the model, the findings suggest that in humans not only extinction learning, but also fear acquisition is controlled by its current context.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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