The effect of a retrieval cue on the return of spider fear

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Abstract

BACKGROUND AND OBJECTIVES: Exposure therapy is often used as treatment for anxiety disorders. However, a change in context after exposure can result in fear renewal. This renewal can be attenuated by using retrieval cues stemming from the exposure context. The present study investigated the effect of such a cue in spider-fearful persons. METHODS: Thirty-three participants underwent an in vivo exposure session while wearing a bracelet (retrieval cue). After exposure, half of the participants continued to wear the bracelet at home until follow-up (cue groups); the other half handed over the bracelet after exposure (no cue groups). Half of the participants in each group received the follow-up in the exposure context (AAcue and AAnocue); for the other half follow-up was conducted in a novel environment (ABcue and ABnocue). RESULTS: A switch in context at follow-up resulted in more self-reported anxiety and arousal compared to no switch. However, the retrieval cue did not attenuate this renewed responding. LIMITATIONS: The number of participant per condition was limited, which might have obscured possible retrieval cue effects due to a lack of power. Additionally, information about the retrieval cue was provided after exposure, which might have weakened the association between the cue and exposure therapy. Furthermore, no autonomic measures were incorporated, restricting the effect to self-report measures. For future studies we would recommend to explicitly link the retrieval cue before onset of the exposure session and to incorporate autonomic measures. CONCLUSIONS: Our findings indicate that a switch in context resulted in more self-reported anxiety and arousal, but that a cue stemming from the exposure context did not attenuate this renewal.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)361-367
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry
Volume44
Issue number4
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2013

Keywords

  • Spider fear
  • Exposure
  • Retrieval cue
  • Renewal
  • Context dependency

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