Fear generalization in humans: impact of feature learning on conditioning and extinction.Neurobiol Learn Mem. 2014 Sep; 113:143-8.NL
Little is known about the role of discrete stimulus features in the regulation of fear. This study examined the effects of feature learning on the acquisition and extinction of fear conditioning. Human participants were fear conditioned to a yellow triangle (CS+) using an electrical shock. We manipulated feature learning through differential conditioning. The nonconditioned control stimulus (CS-) was a red triangle in one group (Color-Relevant), but a yellow circle in the other group (Shape-Relevant). Next, two generalization stimuli were tested that shared the shape- or color-feature with the CS+ (a blue triangle and a yellow square). Online shock-expectancy ratings and skin conductance responding showed that the CS- determined the pattern of fear generalization: the same-color stimulus elicited more fear in Group Color-Relevant, versus the same-shape stimulus in group Shape-Relevant. Furthermore, extinguishing these two generalization stimuli had no detectable effect on fear of the CS+. These results show that fear generalization is influenced by feature learning through differential conditioning, and that exposures to different features of a stimulus are not sufficient to extinguish fear of that stimulus as a whole.