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Behav Res Ther. 2010 Jun;48(6):565-70. doi: 10.1016/j.brat.2010.03.002. Epub 2010 Mar 7.

Exposure to a novel context after extinction causes a renewal of extinguished conditioned responses: implications for the treatment of fear.

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School of Psychology, Griffith University (Gold Coast Campus), Queensland 4222, Australia.


Renewal gives an experimental model for the relapse of fear symptoms following exposure therapy. While renewal of extinguished fear in humans has been observed following a return to the original context in which fear was acquired (ABA design), it has been more difficult to show upon presentation of a novel context (ABC design). The present experiment used a particularly strong context manipulation in a fear conditioning procedure. Context was manipulated by using large photographs of real environments taken from various angles and was present throughout the entire experiment. A renewal of cognitive expectancy was found in both ABA and ABC renewal designs, although it was larger in the former than in the latter. Response times in making the expectancy judgments increased when there was a change to a new context. The results demonstrate consistency in fear renewal effects between human and animal studies and suggest that relapse following exposure therapy via renewal remains a danger when people encounter a previously feared object in a novel context.

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