Delayed extinction attenuates conditioned fear renewal and spontaneous recovery in humans.
This study investigated whether the retention interval after an aversive learning experience influences the return of fear after extinction training. After fear conditioning, participants underwent extinction training either 5 min or 1 day later and in either the same room (same context) or a different room (context shift). The next day, conditioned fear was tested in the original room. When extinction took place immediately, fear renewal was robust and prolonged for context-shift participants, and spontaneous recovery was observed in the same-context participants. Delayed extinction, by contrast, yielded a brief form of fear renewal that reextinguished within the testing session for context-shift participants, and there was no spontaneous recovery in the same-context participants. The authors conclude that the passage of time allows for memory consolidation processes to promote the formation of distinct yet flexible emotional memory traces that confer an ability to recall extinction, even in an alternate context, and minimize the return of fear. Furthermore, immediate extinction can yield spontaneous recovery and prolong fear renewal. These findings have potential implications for ameliorating fear relapse in anxiety disorders.
Huff, NC; Hernandez, JA; Blanding, NQ; LaBar, KS
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