Renewal of conditioned fear responses using a film clip as the aversive unconditioned stimulus

Elze Landkroon*, Gaëtan Mertens, Dieuwke Sevenster, Pauline Dibbets, Iris M Engelhard

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

10 Citations (Web of Science)
223 Downloads (Pure)


BACKGROUND AND OBJECTIVES: Pavlovian fear conditioning paradigms are valuable to investigate fear learning and the return of extinguished fear in the lab. However, their validity is limited, because the aversive stimuli (e.g., electric shocks) typically lack the modalities and complexity of real-world aversive experiences. To overcome this limitation, we examined fear acquisition, extinction and contextual renewal using an audiovisual unconditioned stimulus (US).

METHOD: On day 1, 50 healthy participants completed an acquisition phase in a specific context (i.e., desk or bookcase, 'context A'). Pictures of colored lamps served as conditioned stimuli and an aversive film clip was used as US. On day 2, extinction took place in the same context ('context A') or in a different context ('context B'). Afterwards, renewal was tested in the acquisition context (AAA vs. ABA design).

RESULTS: As hypothesized, fear acquisition and extinction, as measured by US expectancy ratings, fear potentiated startle (FPS), and skin conductance responses (SCRs), were successful. Most importantly, conditioned responding was renewed on all measures in the ABA condition, but not in the AAA condition. Differential renewal (i.e., larger renewal for CS + than for CS-) was only observed for US expectancy ratings.

LIMITATIONS: The return of conditioned responses was non-differential for FPS and SCR.

CONCLUSIONS: The current set-up enables investigation of fear renewal using an audiovisual US. Future studies can utilize this paradigm to investigate interventions that aim to reduce fear renewal by modifying the US memory, such as Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing and imagery rescripting.

Original languageEnglish
Article number101493
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2019


  • Aversive film clip
  • Extinction
  • Fear conditioning
  • Renewal
  • Return of fear

Cite this