Hermann C, Ziegler S, Birbaumer N, Flor H. Psychophysiological and subjective indicators of aversive Pavlovian conditioning in generalized social phobia. Biol Psychiatry 52: 328-337

Department of Neuropsychology at the University of Heidelberg, Central Institute of Mental Health, Mannheim, Germany.
Biological Psychiatry (Impact Factor: 10.26). 09/2002; 52(4):328-37. DOI: 10.1016/S0006-3223(02)01385-9
Source: PubMed


Aversive conditioning has been proposed as an important etiologic mechanism in social phobia; however, empirical evidence is scarce and has not relied on a detailed analysis of the acquisition and extinction of the conditioned emotional response. Fourteen men sustaining generalized social phobia and 19 healthy control subjects participated in differential aversive conditioning with two neutral faces as conditioned stimuli and an aversive odor as unconditioned stimulus. Subjective and peripheral physiological responses were obtained. Both groups were successfully conditioned as reflected by differential subjective (valence, arousal, subjective unconditioned stimulus expectancy) and peripheral physiological responses (skin conductance, startle response). There was no evidence for an enhanced conditionability in the social phobics; however, they showed an enhanced unconditioned stimulus expectancy, especially for the nonreinforced conditioned stimuli during acquisition, and a delayed extinction of the conditioned skin conductance response as well as a certain dissociation between subjective and physiological responses.The enhanced unconditioned stimulus expectancy during acquisition and the overall elevated subjective arousal suggest that, under threat, subjects with generalized social phobia may be more prone to associate neutral social cues and an aversive outcome. Furthermore, delayed extinction of the conditioned response seems to contribute to the etiology and maintenance of generalized social phobia.

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    • "The seemingly diverging findings of both hypervigilance toward and avoidance of negative social cues have been accommodated into a common framework (Mogg et al., 1997; Amir et al., 1998) where social anxiety is held to be characterized by hypervigilance during the initial phase of information processing of threatening social stimuli followed by avoidance of such stimuli at a later phase. The impact of such attentional biases have been investigated in the context of learning mechanisms in social anxiety, particularly in terms of conditioned fear (Hermann et al., 2002; Gros et al., 2009; Ly and Roelofs, 2009; McTeague et al., 2009; Lissek, 2012; Pejic et al., 2013). Lissek et al. (2008), for instance, reported that a group of participants with social anxiety disorder compared to an unaffected control group demonstrated elevated fear conditioning in response to negative facial expressions. "
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    ABSTRACT: Instrumental learning paradigms are rarely employed to investigate the mechanisms underlying acquired fear responses in social anxiety. Here, we adapted a probabilistic category learning paradigm to assess information processing biases as a function of the degree of social anxiety traits in a sample of healthy individuals without a diagnosis of social phobia. Participants were presented with three pairs of neutral faces with differing probabilistic accuracy contingencies (A/B: 80/20, C/D: 70/30, E/F: 60/40). Upon making their choice, negative and positive feedback was conveyed using angry and happy faces, respectively. The highly socially anxious group showed a strong tendency to be more accurate at learning the probability contingency associated with the most ambiguous stimulus pair (E/F: 60/40). Moreover, when pairing the most positively reinforced stimulus or the most negatively reinforced stimulus with all the other stimuli in a test phase, the highly socially anxious group avoided the most negatively reinforced stimulus significantly more than the control group. The results are discussed with reference to avoidance learning and hypersensitivity to negative socially evaluative information associated with social anxiety.
    Frontiers in Psychology 09/2015; 6:1218. DOI:10.3389/fpsyg.2015.01218 · 2.80 Impact Factor
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    • "xplanations for a heightened anxiety risk in highly trait - anxious individuals ( see Lissek et al . , 2005 , for an overview ) the most prominent are enhanced conditionability ( e . g . , Pitman and Orr , 1986 ; Orr et al . , 2000 ; Peri et al . , 2000 ; Otto et al . , 2007 ) and insufficient inhibitory learning ( e . g . , Davis et al . , 2000 ; Hermann et al . , 2002 ) . Theories of enhanced conditionability assume that CS+ / US associations are more easily learned , and / or more robust against extinction , in anxiety - vulnerable relative to invulnerable subjects . Indeed , a recent study reported that high trait anxiety increased the probability of conditioned eye - blink responses during fear ac"
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    ABSTRACT: Relative to healthy controls, anxiety-disorder patients show anomalies in classical conditioning that may either result from, or provide a risk factor for, clinically relevant anxiety. Here, we investigated whether healthy participants with enhanced anxiety vulnerability show abnormalities in a challenging affective-conditioning paradigm, in which many stimulus-reinforcer associations had to be acquired with only few learning trials. Forty-seven high and low trait-anxious females underwent MultiCS conditioning, in which 52 different neutral faces (CS+) were paired with an aversive noise (US), while further 52 faces (CS−) remained unpaired. Emotional learning was assessed by evaluative (rating), behavioral (dot-probe, contingency report), and neurophysiological (magnetoencephalography) measures before, during, and after learning. High and low trait-anxious groups did not differ in evaluative ratings or response priming before or after conditioning. High trait-anxious women, however, were better than low trait-anxious women at reporting CS+/US contingencies after conditioning, and showed an enhanced prefrontal cortex (PFC) activation towards CS+ in the M1 (i.e., 80–117 ms) and M170 time intervals (i.e., 140–160 ms) during acquisition. These effects in MultiCS conditioning observed in individuals with elevated trait anxiety are consistent with theories of enhanced conditionability in anxiety vulnerability. Furthermore, they point towards increased threat monitoring and detection in highly trait-anxious females, possibly mediated by alterations in visual working memory.
    Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience 06/2015; 9:1-19. DOI:10.3389/fnbeh.2015.00155 · 3.27 Impact Factor
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    • "h neutral expression remained unpaired . Faces were presented 20 times each before and after learning with varying trial duration . We investigated to what extent CS+ / CS− differ - entiation as observed in partial reinforcement [ e . g . , Pizzagalli et al . ( 2003 ) and Dolan et al . ( 2006 ) ] , or peripheral - physiological designs [ e . g . , Hermann et al . ( 2002 ) ] , would emerge in this hybrid new approach . More specifically , after relative to before learning , we expected to observe increased autonomic ( electrodermal ) reac - tivity during the CS+ compared to the CS− , besides enhanced CS+ vs . CS− cortical processing , as indexed by the LPP , EPN , and other early event - related potenti"
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    ABSTRACT: Several challenges make it difficult to simultaneously investigate central and autonomous nervous system correlates of conditioned stimulus (CS) processing in classical conditioning paradigms. Such challenges include, for example, the discrepant requirements of electroencephalography (EEG) and electrodermal activity (EDA) recordings with regard to multiple repetitions of conditions and sufficient trial duration. Here, we propose a MultiCS conditioning set-up, in which we increased the number of CSs, decreased the number of learning trials, and used trials of short and long durations for meeting requirements of simultaneous EEG-EDA recording in a differential aversive conditioning task. Forty-eight participants underwent MultiCS conditioning, in which four neutral faces (CS+) were paired four times each with aversive electric stimulation (UCS) during acquisition, while four different neutral faces (CS-) remained unpaired. When comparing after relative to before learning measurements, EEG revealed an enhanced centro-posterior positivity to CS+ vs. CS- during 368 to 600 ms, and subjective ratings indicated CS+ to be less pleasant and more arousing than CS-. Furthermore, changes in CS valence and arousal were strong enough to bias subjective ratings when faces of CS+/CS- identity were displayed with different emotional expression (happy, angry) in a post-experimental behavioral task. In contrast to a persistent neural and evaluative CS+/CS- differentiation that sustained multiple unreinforced CS presentations, electrodermal differentiation was rapidly extinguished. Current results suggest that MultiCS conditioning provides a promising paradigm for investigating pre-post learning changes under minimal influences of extinction and overlearning of simple stimulus features. Our data also revealed methodological pitfalls, such as the possibility of occurring artifacts when combining different acquisition systems for central and peripheral psychophysiological measures.
    Frontiers in Human Neuroscience 06/2015; 9(Article 336):1-14. DOI:10.3389/fnhum.2015.00336 · 2.99 Impact Factor
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