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Title: A psychological analysis of the effects of memory retrieval prior to extinction on the reacquisition of a conditioned fear association
Author: Wood, Melissa Allison
ISNI:       0000 0004 2708 2544
Awarding Body: University of Cambridge
Current Institution: University of Cambridge
Date of Award: 2010
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The successful reduction of fear is the aim of clinicians treating people with anxiety disorders such as post-traumatic stress disorder or phobias. Existing treatments for these conditions, however, require many treatment sessions and are prone to relapse. A new technique, first demonstrated in rats by Monfils, Cowansage, Klann, & LeDoux (2009) and later shown to be effective in humans (Schiller et al., 2010), provides a method of efficiently reducing fear in a manner which is resistant to various known triggers of relapse. This procedure involves a single presentation of the fear-inducing stimulus one hour prior to extinction training. This procedure produces extinction learning that is resistant to the return of fear resulting from a change of context, the passage of time, exposure to the unconditioned stimulus, and even further conditioning of the stimulus with an aversive stimulus. This dissertation focuses on one particular property of this procedure: that a stimulus extinguished using this procedure is resistant to subsequent retraining of the fear association. The first four experiments presented here are aimed at replicating this phenomenon and determining whether prediction error at retrieval is necessary for the effect to occur. Following on from these studies, the next chapter presents three experiments which investigate whether trial spacing effects could explain the enhanced extinction and highlights conditions under which the effect is weakened, or possibly reversed. The next three experiments compare the properties of a stimulus extinguished under these conditions with a stimulus extinguished under normal conditions. These studies focus on explanations involving inhibition, inattention and the disruption of stimulus representations. In the final three experiments, the possibility of reversing the effect is investigated. These studies look at the effect of memory retrieval prior to retraining of the stimulus to determine the conditions under which the stimulus can again come to elicit a fear response.
Supervisor: Everitt, Barry J. Sponsor: Medical Research Council ; Poynton Cambridge Commonwealth Trust ; Oon Khye Beng Ch‟hia Tsio Bursary
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: Reconsolidation ; Extinction ; Fear ; Anxiety ; Learning ; Memory