ISSN 2043-8087
Journal of Experimental Psychopathology
 Volume 3, Issue 1, 84-102, 2012
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Repetitive Thought about an Aversive Learning Experience Maintains Conditioned Responding

Els Joos, Debora Vansteenwegen, and Dirk Hermans
University of Leuven, Belgium

Volume 3, Issue 1, 2012, Pages 84-102

Clinical anxiety is often believed to be based on fear conditioning, a procedure of pairing an originally neutral stimulus (conditioned stimulus, CS) with an aversive unconditioned stimulus (US), which results in the CS eliciting a conditioned fear response in the absence of the US. Recently, it was shown that repeatedly thinking about an aversive conditioning event maintains subsequent fear responding. A crucial question is how such effects should be interpreted. Does rehearsal of a CS-US-contingency result in a strengthened memory trace of the conditioning experience or in changes in the US-representation (e.g., US-inflation or increased US-coherence)? The current study was set up to investigate the underlying mechanism of this rehearsal effect. After acquisition training with two CS+s paired with the same US, participants rehearsed one of both CS-US-contingencies. The CS+ that was part of the rehearsed contingency elicited more US-expectancy than the CS+ that was not rehearsed. As changes in the US-representation could not explain our data, we suggest that a strengthening of the memory trace of the CS-US-association underlies this effect. Repetitive thought about a conditioning experience seems to result in sustained conditioned responding due to a strengthened CS-US-association. We propose that the repetitive nature of thought processes such as worry might partly explain its unconstructive role in anxiety.

Table of Contents
 Stimuli and Apparatus
  Stimulus selection phase.
  Acquisition phase and Acquisition test phase.
  Rehearsal phase 1 and Rehearsal test 1.
  Rehearsal phase 2 and Rehearsal test 2.
 Manipulation check of rehearsal instruction
  Was acquisition successful in US-expectancy ratings and fear ratings?
  Contingency awareness.
 Does CS-US-rehearsal impact subsequent conditioned responding?
  US-expectancy ratings.
  Fear ratings.
 Did CS-US-rehearsal result in an inflation of the negative value of the US-representation?
 Did spreading of activation to the CS+Non-rehearsed–US-association influence the observed rehearsal effect?
  Did rehearsal of the CS+Rehearsed-US-contingency activate the CS+Non-rehearsed–US-association?
  Did activation of the CS+Non-rehearsed-US-association attenuate the effect of CS-US-rehearsal on CR strength?

Correspondence to
Dirk Hermans, Department of Psychology, University of Leuven, Tiensestraat 102 box 3712, 3000 Leuven, Belgium.

fear conditioning, rehearsal, repetitive thought, US-representation, US-inflation

Received 20 Apr 2011; Revised 5 Jul 2011; Accepted 10 Aug 2011; In Press 5 Feb 2012

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