Overgeneralization of fear, but not avoidance, following acute stress

Anke Lemmens, Tom Beckers, Pauline Dibbets, Sahaj Kang, Tom Smeets

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

Abstract

Research has demonstrated the spreading of fear from threat-related stimuli to perceptually similar, but innocuous, stimuli. Less is known, however, about the generalization of avoidance behavior. Given that stress is known to affect learning and memory, we were interested in the effect of acute stress on (over)generalization of fear and avoidance responses. On the first day, one geometrical shape was paired with a mild electrical stimulus (CS+), whereas another shape was not (CS-). One day later, after participants had been exposed to the Maastricht Acute Stress Test or a control task, generalization of avoidance responses and fear (shock expectancy and skin conductance responses) was tested to a range of perceptual generalization stimuli. Generalization gradients were observed across different outcome measures. Stress enhanced generalization of shock expectancy to the stimulus most similar to the CS+. Our findings confirm that stress can affect the generalization of fear, but further studies are warranted.

Original languageEnglish
Article number108151
Number of pages10
JournalBiological Psychology
Volume164
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2021

Keywords

  • ANXIETY DISORDERS
  • Acute stress
  • Avoidance generalization
  • CONDITIONED FEAR
  • EXPECTANCY BIAS
  • EXTINCTION
  • Fear conditioning
  • Fear generalization
  • INCREASES
  • INDIVIDUALS
  • INHIBITION
  • MAST
  • MEMORY
  • POTENTIATED STARTLE
  • VALIDATION

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