Research has demonstrated that disgust can be installed through classical conditioning by pairing neutral conditioned stimuli (CSs) with disgusting unconditioned stimuli (USs). Disgust has been argued to play an important role in maintaining fear-related disorders. This maintaining role may be explained by conditioned disgust being less sensitive to extinction (i.e., experiencing the CS in the absence of the US). Promising alternatives to extinction training are procedures that focus on the devaluation of US memory representations. In the current study, we investigated whether such devaluation procedures can be successful to counter conditioned disgust. We conducted two laboratory studies (N = 120 and N = 51) in which disgust was conditioned using audio-visual USs. Memory representations of the USs were devalued by having participants recall these USs while they performed a taxing eye-movement task or executed one of several control tasks. The results showed successful conditioned disgust acquisition. However, no strong evidence was obtained that an US memory devaluation procedure modulates disgust memory and diminishes conditioned disgust as indicated by subjective, behavioral, or psychophysiological measures. We discuss the relevance of our results for methodological improvements regarding US memory devaluation procedures and disgust conditioning.
- Memory devaluation