Motivation and Emotion

, Volume 8, Issue 1, pp 55–66 | Cite as

Extinction of an emotional response in the presence of facial expressions of emotion

  • Scott P. Orr
  • John T. Lanzetta


Previous studies (Lanzetta & Orr, 1980, 1981; Orr & Lanzetta, 1980) have demonstrated that fear facial expressions have the functional properties of conditioned excitatory stimuli, while happy expressions behave as conditioned inhibitors of emotional responses. The present study uses a summation conditioning procedure to distinguish between associative and nonassociative (selective sensitizations, attentional) interpretations of these findings. A neutral tone was first established as a conditioned excitatory CS by reinforcing tone presentations with shock. In subsequent nonreinforced test trials the excitatory tone was paired with either fear, happy, or neutral facial expressions. A tone alone and a tone/nonface slide compound were used as controls. The results indicate that phasic and tonic skin conductance responses to the tone/fear expression compound were significantly larger during extinction than for all other experimental and control groups. No significant differences were found among these latter conditions. The findings support the assumption that the excitatory characteristics of fear expressions do not depend on associative mechanisms. In the presence of fear cues, fear facial expressions intensify the emotional reaction and disrupt extinction of a previously acquired fear response. Happy facial expressions however, do not function as conditioned inhibitors in the absence of reinforcement, suggesting that the previously found inhibition was associative in nature.


Facial Expression Conditioned Inhibitor Skin Conductance Response Tonic Skin Fear Expression 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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Copyright information

© Plenum Publishing Corporation 1984

Authors and Affiliations

  • Scott P. Orr
    • 1
  • John T. Lanzetta
    • 1
  1. 1.Psychology DepartmentDartmouth CollegeHanover

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