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Biol Psychol. 1990 Feb;30(1):35-50.

Effects of conditioned stimulus pre-exposure on human electrodermal conditioning to fear-relevant and fear-irrelevant stimuli.

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  • 1Department of Psychology, University College of Orebro, Sweden.


The effects of conditioned stimulus (CS) pre-exposure and fear-relevance of the CS on human Pavlovian electrodermal conditioning were investigated. A differential delayed conditioning paradigm was used with a CS-unconditioned stimulus (US; shock) interval of 8 s. In Experiment 1, 64 subjects were randomized into four groups, two of which received fear-relevant stimuli and the other two fear-irrelevant stimuli. Half of the subjects were pre-exposed to the to-be-CSs and the other half to two not-to-be-CSs, with 15 exposure of each stimulus. During acquisition, subjects received 8 reinforced and 8 nonreinforced CS+ and CS- trials, and during the extinction phase 15 nonreinforced trials of each CS. Pre-exposure to the to-be-CSs retarded conditioning for the first and second interval anticipatory responses (FIRs and SIRs); that is, a latent inhibition effect was demonstrated, although the results for the FIR were inconclusive. The expected effects of fear-relevance were not revealed. Experiment 2 addressed the question whether the long pre-exposure period interfered with the frequently observed "preparedness effect" of higher resistance to extinction to fear-relevant stimuli. The design was similar to that of Experiment 1, but for half of the subjects the acquisition phase was initiated immediately after a short rest period, and for the other half acquisition started after an extended rest period, equal to the duration of the pre-exposure phase in Experiment 1. Twenty extinction trials of each CS were presented. A reliable difference in arousal in terms of spontaneous fluctuations was produced by the rest periods, but although differential conditioning was observed, no effect of fear-relevance was seen during extinction.

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