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The acquisition and extinction of fear of painful touch: a novel tactile fear conditioning paradigm

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Abstract

Fear of touch, due to allodynia and spontaneous pain, is not well understood. Experimental methods to advance this topic are lacking, and therefore we propose a novel tactile conditioning paradigm. Seventy-six pain-free participants underwent acquisition in a predictable as well as an unpredictable pain context. In the predictable context, vibrotactile stimulation was paired with painful electrocutaneous stimulation (simulating allodynia). In the unpredictable context, vibrotactile stimulation was unpaired with pain (simulating spontaneous pain). During an extinction phase, a cue exposure and context exposure group continued in the predictable and unpredictable context, respectively, without pain. A control group received continued acquisition in both contexts. Self-reported fear and skin conductance response's, but not startle responses, showed fear of touch was acquired in the predictable context. Context-related startle responses showed contextual fear emerged in the unpredictable context, together with elevated self-reported fear and skin conductance responses evoked by the unpaired vibrotactile stimulations. Cue exposure reduced fear of touch, whereas context exposure reduced contextual fear. Thus, painful touch leads to increased fear, as does touch in the same context as unpredictable pain, and extinction protocols can reduce this fear. We conclude that tactile conditioning is valuable for investigating fear of touch and can advance our understanding of chronic pain.

Perspectives: The acquisition and extinction of fear of touch was investigated in a clinical analog study using a novel tactile fear conditioning paradigm. The results have implications for research on the development and treatment of chronic pain conditions characterized by allodynia and spontaneous pain fluctuations. (C) 2017 by the American Pain Society

    Research areas

  • Journal Article, fear conditioning, STIMULATION, PREPULSE INHIBITION, ANXIETY, MOVEMENT-RELATED PAIN, touch, MECHANISMS, STARTLE, NEUROPATHIC PAIN, RESPONSES, extinction, vibrotactile, REDUCTION, SOMATOSENSORY CORTEX, Pain-related fear
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Details

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1505-1516
Number of pages12
JournalThe Journal of Pain
Volume18
Issue number12
Early online date24 Aug 2017
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2017