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Behav Ther. 2011 Jun;42(2):153-69. doi: 10.1016/j.beth.2010.06.002. Epub 2010 Dec 10.

S-R associations, their extinction, and recovery in an animal model of anxiety: a new associative account of phobias without recall of original trauma.

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State University of New York, Binghamton, NY 13902-6000, USA.


Associative accounts of the etiology of phobias have been criticized because of numerous cases of phobias in which the client does not remember a relevant traumatic event (i.e., Pavlovian conditioning trial), instructions, or vicarious experience with the phobic object. In three lick suppression experiments with rats as subjects, we modeled an associative account of such fears. Experiment 1 assessed stimulus-response (S-R) associations in first-order fear conditioning. After behaviorally complete devaluation of the unconditioned stimulus, the target stimulus still produced strong conditioned responses, suggesting that an S-R association had been formed and that this association was not significantly affected when the outcome was devalued through unsignaled presentations of the unconditioned stimulus. Experiments 2 and 3 examined extinction and recovery of S-R associations. Experiment 2 showed that extinguished S-R associations returned when testing occurred outside of the extinction context (i.e., renewal) and Experiment 3 found that a long delay between extinction and testing also produced a return of the extinguished S-R associations (i.e., spontaneous recovery). These experiments suggest that fears for which people cannot recall a cause are explicable in an associative framework, and indicate that those fears are susceptible to relapse after extinction treatment just like stimulus-outcome (S-O) associations.

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