Fear extinction in humans: Effects of acquisition–extinction delay and masked stimulus presentations

A Golkar, A Öhman: Fear extinction in humans: Effects of acquisition–extinction delay and masked stimulus presentations. In: Biological Psychology, 91 (2), pp. 292–301, 2012, ISSN: 03010511.

Abstract

Fear extinction can be viewed as an inhibitory learning process. This is supported by post-extinction phenomena demonstrating the return of fear, such as reinstatement. Recent work has questioned this account, claiming that extinction initiated immediately after fear acquisition can abolish the return of fear. In the current study, participants were fear conditioned to four different conditioned stimuli (CS) and underwent extinction either immediately or after a 24 h delay. During extinction, we manipulated CS contingency awareness by presenting two of the CSs (one CS+, one CS−) under non-masked conditions and the other two CSs under masked conditions. Compared to delayed extinction, immediate extinction of non-masked CSs promoted less extinction of fear-potentiated startle and shock expectancy ratings and less reinstatement of fear-potentiated startle without affecting shock expectancy ratings. Critically, future research should clarify how the differences between immediate and delayed extinction in within-session extinction modulate the recovery of fear.