ISSN 2043-8087
Journal of Experimental Psychopathology
 Volume 8, Issue 1, 76-87, 2017
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Feature specific attention and return of fear

  Tom J. Barry - Centre for Learning Psychology and Experimental Ps
  Bram Vervliet - Centre for Learning Psychology and Experimental Ps
  Dirk Hermans - Centre for Learning Psychology and Experimental Ps

Volume 8, Issue 1, 2017, Pages 76-87


Anxiety disorders are often treated by repeatedly presenting stimuli that are perceptually similar to original stimuli to which fear was originally acquired. Fear can return after it is extinguished because of the differences between these stimuli. It may possible to attenuate return of fear by manipulating attention to the commonalities between feared stimuli and extinction stimuli.

After acquiring fear for an animal-like stimulus by pairing with an electro-cutaneous shock, fear was extinguished by repeatedly presenting a similar stimulus. During extinction participants were asked questions that instructed them to attend towards the features in common between the acquisition and extinction stimulus or towards the unique features of the extinction stimulus. Return of fear was assessed by presenting a second perceptually similar stimulus after extinction.

Participants showed a return in skin conductance responding after extinction in the unique condition, and not in the common condition. Both groups showed a return in self-report ratings of US expectancy. Neither group showed a return in fear potentiated startle, but there was evidence that this may have been due to individual differences in emotional attentional control.

It may be possible to enhance extinction and prevent a return of the physiological aspects of fear by manipulating attention during extinction. However, this does not appear to influence explicit expectancy of aversive outcomes. Individual differences in attentional control may influence this process.

Table of Contents
 Participants and design
 Stimuli and Apparatus
  Emotional Attentional Control Scale (eACS)
 Data reduction and analysis
 Acquisition and generalization of acquisition
 Generalization of extinction
  Fear Potentiated Startle
  Skin Conductance Response
  US-Expectancy Ratings

Correspondence to
Tom J. Barry, Centre for Learning Psychology and Experimental Psychopathology, Psychology Faculty, University of Leuven, Tiensestraat 102 - Bus 3712, 3000 Leuven, Belgium.

Fear; Phobia; Extinction; Attention; Exposure; Anxiety

Received 15 Sep 2015; Revised 7 Jun 2016; Accepted 7 Jun 2016; In Press 26 Jun 2016

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