Turning negative memories around: Contingency versus devaluation techniques



Background and objectives: It is assumed that fear responses can be altered by changing the contingency between a conditioned stimulus (CS) and an unconditioned stimulus (US), or by devaluing the present mental representation of the US. The aim of the present study was to compare the efficacy of contingency- and devaluation-based intervention techniques on the diminishment in – and return of fear. We hypothesized that extinction (EXT, contingency-based) would outperform devaluation-based techniques regarding contingency measures, but that devaluation-based techniques would be most effective in reducing the mental representation of the US. Additionally, we expected that incorporations of the US during devaluation would result in less reinstatement of the US averseness. Methods: Healthy participants received a fear conditioning paradigm followed by one of three interventions: extinction (EXT, contingency-based), imagery rescripting (ImRs, devaluation-based) or eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR, devaluation-based). A reinstatement procedure and test followed the next day. Results: EXT was indeed most successful in diminishing contingency-based US expectancies and skin conductance responses (SCRs), but all interventions were equally successful in reducing the averseness of the mental US representation. After reinstatement EXT showed lowest expectancies and SCRs; no differences were observed between the conditions concerning the mental US representation. Limitations: A partial reinforcement schedule was used, resulting in a vast amount of contingency unaware participants. Additionally, a non-clinical sample was used, which may limit the generalizability to clinical populations. Conclusion: EXT is most effective in reducing conditioned fear responses.
Date made available2 Jul 2019

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