Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Scientist Find More Efficient Way To 'Unlearn' Fear

Date:
October 6, 2003
Source:
American Psychological Association
Summary:
Behavior therapists may have a better way to help anxious patients, thanks to insights from a UCLA study of different ways to get mice past their fears.

WASHINGTON -- Behavior therapists may have a better way to help anxious patients, thanks to insights from a UCLA study of different ways to get mice past their fears. Rodents have long been used to study learning by association. Neuroscientists compared different ways of exposing mice to a stimulus that they had learned to fear, and found that "massing" the feared stimulus -– delivering it in concentrated bursts, not pacing it with longer pauses in between -- was surprisingly efficient at helping to erase its impact. This study appears in the October issue of the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Animal Behavior Processes, which is published by the American Psychological Association.

According to the authors, doctoral students Christopher Cain and Ashley Blouin, and Mark Barad, M.D., Ph.D., these findings are significant for clinical behavioral therapy, which has been scientifically proven to work in a range of human anxiety disorders, including specific phobias, panic disorder, social phobia, post-traumatic stress disorder, and obsessive-compulsive disorder.

At the University of California, Los Angeles, the researchers taught mice (in most conditions, eight at a time) to fear harmless white noise by associating it with a mild shock delivered through the floor of the experimental cage. After a couple of trials, the mice "froze" –- just stopped moving, a fear response –- for about 72 seconds, or 60 percent of the two minutes of white noise. Thus, the white noise became what's called a "conditioned stimulus." It may not have been the original source of pain, but it became sufficiently associated with pain to cause fear all by itself.

Next, Cain and his colleagues separated the mice into three groups and measured how well they overcame their aversion to white noise when they heard it 20 times for two minutes each, without shocks -– with intervals of six, 60 or 600 seconds between each presentation. Repeatedly presenting a conditioned stimulus has long been known to "extinguish" a fear by exposing animals (including humans) to that stimulus without associated pain. In the study, for example, some of the mice learned to trust that white noise would not come with shocks. In a human parallel, someone who had developed a fear of dogs after being bitten could be exposed to playful, gentle dogs as a way to re-learn that most are safe.

The only catch is that anxiety is like an unwanted houseguest: It breezes in quickly, without invitation, and is hard to kick out, as is clear from the fact that the mice feared the white noise after two exposures, but needed far more than two exposures to get over it –- and only under certain conditions. Thus, approaches that make treatment more efficient are high on therapists' wish lists.

Cain and his colleagues found that both short-term and long-term fear extinction (immediate and one day later) were greater with "temporally massed" presentations of the stimulus, which had six-second intervals between each of the 20 bursts of white noise. The six-second-gap mice stopped showing significant freezing after about 10 presentations of white noise, or 20 minutes' worth. The mice in the other two groups never really stopped freezing.

Given these important findings, the authors say, "Therapists may wish to incorporate some massing of anxiogenic stimuli into exposure therapy sessions to more quickly reduce the aversiveness of therapy and increase the patient's willingness to continue with treatment."

"This very strong finding," says co-author Mark Barad, M.D., Ph.D., "is already inspiring a search for a similar pattern of response in human anxiety patients. It's part of a recent wave of important discoveries about fear extinction, findings that will transform both the practice of behavior therapy and the use of drugs as adjuncts to psychotherapy in the next few years."

###

Article: Christopher K. Cain, B.A.; Ashley M. Blouin, B.A.; Mark Barad, M.D., Ph.D., "Temporally Massed CS Presentations Generate More Fear Extinction Than Spaced Presentations," Journal of Experimental Psychology: Animal Behavior Processes, Vol. 29, No. 4.

(Full text of the article is available from the APA Public Affairs Office and at http://www.apa.org/releases/conditionalfear_article.pdf)


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by American Psychological Association. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

American Psychological Association. "Scientist Find More Efficient Way To 'Unlearn' Fear." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 6 October 2003. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2003/10/031006064929.htm>.
American Psychological Association. (2003, October 6). Scientist Find More Efficient Way To 'Unlearn' Fear. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 23, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2003/10/031006064929.htm
American Psychological Association. "Scientist Find More Efficient Way To 'Unlearn' Fear." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2003/10/031006064929.htm (accessed July 23, 2014).

Share This




More Mind & Brain News

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Why Do People Believe We Only Use 10 Percent Of Our Brains?

Why Do People Believe We Only Use 10 Percent Of Our Brains?

Newsy (July 22, 2014) The new sci-fi thriller "Lucy" is making people question whether we really use all our brainpower. But, as scientists have insisted for years, we do. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Do Obese Women Have 'Food Learning Impairment'?

Do Obese Women Have 'Food Learning Impairment'?

Newsy (July 18, 2014) Yale researchers tested 135 men and women, and it was only obese women who were deemed to have "impaired associative learning." Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Does Mixing Alcohol and Energy Drinks Boost Urge To Drink?

Does Mixing Alcohol and Energy Drinks Boost Urge To Drink?

Newsy (July 18, 2014) A new study suggests that mixing alcohol with energy drinks makes you want to keep the party going. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Pot Cooking Class Teaches Responsible Eating

Pot Cooking Class Teaches Responsible Eating

AP (July 18, 2014) Following the nationwide trend of eased restrictions on marijuana use, pot edibles are growing in popularity. One Boston-area cooking class is teaching people how to eat pot responsibly. (July 18) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins