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Behav Res Ther. 2012 May;50(5):313-22. doi: 10.1016/j.brat.2012.02.005. Epub 2012 Mar 3.

Cross-US reinstatement of human conditioned fear: return of old fears or emergence of new ones?

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School of Psychology, University of New South Wales, Sydney NSW 2052, Australia.


Re-exposure to the unconditioned stimulus (US) following fear extinction in the laboratory produces reinstatement of fear. Similarly in clinical situations, anxiety patients may experience adverse events that reinstate fear following successful exposure therapy. The current study employed two USs, shock and loud noise, to examine whether a US that is qualitatively different but of the same valence as the original acquisition US can produce reinstatement in human fear conditioning. Both standard and cross-US reinstatement manipulations led to elevated fear as indexed by skin conductance. However, cross-US reinstatement was accompanied by elevated expectancy of the US that had been presented during the reinstatement manipulation, not the US that had been used to establish fear in acquisition. This result implies that reinstatement may involve the development of new fears. Context conditioning and cognitive processes were implicated as possible mechanisms. The current findings suggest that clinical relapse attributed to reinstatement may not always reflect the reactivation of old fears but may instead represent new fears worthy of clinical examination.

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