Devaluation of threat memory using a dual-task intervention does not reduce context renewal of fear

Elze Landkroon*, Gaetan Mertens, Iris M. Engelhard

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

Abstract

Many patients who benefit from exposure-based therapy for anxiety disorders fail to maintain their gains. Learned fear may return when they encounter phobic stimuli in a different context than the one in which extinction occurred. In the current pre-registered experiment, we tested whether threat memory devaluation reduces context renewal of fear. A dual-task intervention was used to devalue threat memory. During this intervention, individuals recall the threat memory while simultaneously performing a demanding secondary task (e.g., making eye movements). On day 1, participants (N = 75) underwent fear acquisition with an aversive film clip in context A. On day 2, 25 participants were assigned to each group, namely a dual-task group, or one of two control groups: recall only task (without the dual-task) or no intervention. Afterwards, all participants underwent extinction training in context B and were then exposed to context A again in a test phase. The dual-task intervention effectively degraded threat memory compared to no intervention, but the recall only intervention was also partly effective. However, all three groups showed comparable fear renewal on subjective and physiological measures. This indicates that threat memory devaluation was not effective to prevent context renewal.

Original languageEnglish
Article number103480
Number of pages10
JournalBehaviour Research and Therapy
Volume124
DOIs
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 2020

Keywords

  • US devaluation
  • Fear conditioning
  • Return of fear
  • Renewal
  • Threat memory
  • Dual-task
  • EXPOSURE THERAPY
  • EYE-MOVEMENTS
  • PSYCHOLOGICAL TREATMENTS
  • ANXIETY DISORDERS
  • SKIN-CONDUCTANCE
  • WORKING-MEMORY
  • EXTINCTION
  • RETURN
  • RECOMMENDATIONS
  • METAANALYSIS

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