Reducing generalization of conditioned fear: Beneficial impact of fear relevance and feedback in discrimination training

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Abstract

Anxiety patients over-generalize fear, possibly because of an incapacity to discriminate threat and safety signals. Discrimination trainings are promising approaches for reducing such fear over-generalization. Here we investigated the efficacy of a fear-relevant vs. a fear-irrelevant discrimination training on fear generalization and whether the effects are increased with feedback during training. Eighty participants underwent two fear acquisition blocks, during which one face (conditioned stimulus, CS+), but not another face (CS−), was associated with a female scream (unconditioned stimulus, US). During two generalization blocks, both CSs plus four morphs (generalization stimuli, GS1–GS4) were presented. Between these generalization blocks, half of the participants underwent a fear-relevant discrimination training (discrimination between CS+ and the other faces) with or without feedback and the other half a fear-irrelevant discrimination training (discrimination between the width of lines) with or without feedback. US expectancy, arousal, valence ratings, and skin conductance responses (SCR) indicated successful fear acquisition. Importantly, fear-relevant vs. fear-irrelevant discrimination trainings and feedback vs. no feedback reduced generalization as reflected in US expectancy ratings independently from one another. No effects of training condition were found for arousal and valence ratings or SCR. In summary, this is a first indication that fear-relevant discrimination training and feedback can improve the discrimination between threat and safety signals in healthy individuals, at least for learning-related evaluations, but not evaluations of valence or (physiological) arousal.
Original languageEnglish
Article number665711
JournalFrontiers in Psychology
Volume12
Issue number1648
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank Paula Engelke, Johanna Holz?pfel, and Laura R?sler for helping us with collecting the data. Funding. The work was supported by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG, German Research Foundation)?project no. 44541416?TRR 58 ?Fear, Anxiety, Anxiety Disorders? within project Z02 to PP, JD, MR, and KD. This publication was supported by the Open Access Publication Fund of the University of W?rzburg.

Funding Information:
The work was supported by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG, German Research Foundation)—project no. 44541416— TRR 58 “Fear, Anxiety, Anxiety Disorders” within project Z02 to PP, JD, MR, and KD. This publication was supported by the Open Access Publication Fund of the University of Würzburg.

Publisher Copyright:
© Copyright © 2021 Herzog, Andreatta, Schneider, Schiele, Domschke, Romanos, Deckert and Pauli.

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