Presentation of unpaired unconditional stimuli during extinction reduces renewal of conditional fear and slows re-acquisition.Psychophysiology. 2021 10; 58(10):e13899.P
Past research has shown that presenting unconditional stimuli (US) during extinction training, either paired with the conditional stimulus (CS) or explicitly unpaired, can reduce spontaneous recovery and slow the re-acquisition of conditional fear. Whether contextual renewal of conditioned fear as indexed by electrodermal responses and self-report measures of anxiety and CS evaluations is also reduced after presentation of paired or unpaired USs during extinction training is currently unclear. Three groups of participants (Paired, Unpaired, Standard Extinction) completed a sequence of habituation, acquisition, extinction, renewal, and re-acquisition phases. During extinction, five CS-US pairings were presented in group Paired, whereas five US were presented alone in group Unpaired. No US were presented during standard extinction. For all groups, extinction was conducted in a context that was different from that of the other phases. Extinction of differential electrodermal responding was evident in groups Unpaired and Standard, but not in group Paired. Contextual renewal and fast re-acquisition, as indexed by differential electrodermal responding, were evident in group Standard, but not in group Unpaired and differential electrodermal responding persisted in group Paired. After extinction, self-reported anxiety was higher in groups Paired and Unpaired, but differential CS evaluations were evident in group Paired only. The current results suggest that presenting additional unpaired USs during extinction training strengthens extinction and protects against the renewal of differential electrodermal responding.