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Testing the memory reconsolidation hypothesis in a fear extinction paradigm: The effects of ecological and arbitrary stimuli

Abstract

Various studies demonstrated that extinction training taking place shortly after the activation of the acquired fear could weaken the conditioned fear. The procedure is called post-retrieval extinction (PRE). However, from the time it emerged, it has suffered from inconsistencies in the ability of researchers to replicate the seemingly established effects. Extant literature implies that conditioned fear might be differentially sensitive to the nature of conditioned stimuli (CS) used. The aim of the present study, therefore, is threefold. First, we aimed to replicate Schiller et al. (Nature, 463, 49–53. 2010) procedure in which the PRE had produced positive results with arbitrary CSs only. Also, we examined the PRE as a function of CS type (ecological-fear-relevant (images of spider and snake) vs. arbitrary (images of yellow and blue circles)). Finally, we aimed to investigate the long-term effects of the PRE (i.e., 24 h, 15 d, and 3 mo). The study consisted of acquisition, re-activation and extinction, and re-extinction phases. Dependent measure was the recovery of fear responses as indexed by the skin conductance responses (SCRs) and arousal ratings of the participants at the last trial of the extinction and the first trial of the re-extinction. All groups showed significant acquisition and extinction patterns, compared to the other two groups (i.e., 6 h after the activating CS and without an activating stimulus) only the group that undertook extinction trials 10 min after the activating CS showed a sustained extinction. Thus, our findings provided further evidence for the robustness of the PRE paradigm in preventing the recovery of extinguished fears behaviorally, both with ecological and arbitrary stimuli.

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Data Availability

The data and materials used in the experiment are available from the corresponding author upon request.

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Funding

This work was supported by The Scientific and Technological Research Council of Turkey (TÜBİTAK, grant number: 111K258 and 111K233) to SD and HÇ respectively.

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Correspondence to Hakan Çetinkaya.

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Dural, S., Gür, E. & Çetinkaya, H. Testing the memory reconsolidation hypothesis in a fear extinction paradigm: The effects of ecological and arbitrary stimuli. Learn Behav (2022). https://doi.org/10.3758/s13420-022-00536-2

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Keywords

  • Reconsolidation
  • Fear conditioning
  • Extinction
  • Spontaneous recovery
  • Ecological vs. arbitrary CSs
  • SCR