Return of fear in a human differential conditioning paradigm caused by a stimulus change after extinction.Behav Res Ther. 2005 Mar; 43(3):357-71.BR
In a human fear conditioning experiment, 32 participants were trained in a differential conditioning procedure with geometrical shapes as CS+ and CS- (four presentations each), and an electric shock as US. Measures of conditioned responding were skin conductance response (SCR) and retrospective US-expectancy ratings. For half of the participants (Generalization Group, GG), the subsequent extinction phase consisted of four nonreinforced presentations of generalization stimuli (GS+ and GS-). Participants from the Extinction control Group received an equal amount of nonreinforced presentations of the CSs. Finally, all participants were tested with the original CSs. The results from both measures clearly show an increase in the size of the discrimination upon the stimulus change after extinction in the GG. Because this pattern is not observed in the Extinction control Group, extinction performance appears to be somehow restricted to the perceptual characteristics of the extinction stimulus. Interestingly, the size of the conditioned SCR discrimination in the GG is not influenced by the stimulus change after acquisition. This observation points to a differential impact of stimulus change after acquisition vs. extinction treatment. The findings are discussed from the theoretical perspective of renewal and the clinical perspective of Return of Fear.