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Annu Rev Clin Psychol. 2013;9:215-48. doi: 10.1146/annurev-clinpsy-050212-185542.

Fear extinction and relapse: state of the art.

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1
Department of Psychology, University of Leuven, Leuven 3000, Belgium. bram.vervliet@ppw.kuleuven.be

Abstract

Exposure-based treatments for clinical anxiety generally are very effective, but relapse is not uncommon. Likewise, laboratory studies have shown that conditioned fears are easy to extinguish, but they recover easily. This analogy is striking, and numerous fear extinction studies have been published that highlight the processes responsible for the extinction and return of acquired fears. This review examines and integrates the most important results from animal and human work. Overall, the results suggest that fear extinction is relatively easy to "learn" but difficult to "remember." It follows that treatments will benefit from an enhanced focus on the long-term retrieval of fear extinction. We review the available studies on the prevention of return of fear and the prospects of weakening fear memories forever. We show that the behavioral principles outlined in learning theory provide a continuous inspiration for preclinical (neurobiological) and clinical research on the extinction and return of fear.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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