Human fear conditioning is moderated by stimulus contingency instructions

G. Mertens, Y. Boddez, Angelos-Miltiadis Krypotos, I. M. Engelhard

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


Recent research findings indicate that human fear conditioning is affected by instructions, particularly those concerning the contingency between the conditioned stimulus (CS) and the unconditioned stimulus (US). However, whether or not such instructions were provided to participants often remains unsaid in fear conditioning studies. In the current study (N = 102), we investigated whether conditioned fear acquisition depends on CS-US contingency instructions. Participants were randomly assigned to one of three groups. The first group was instructed about the precise CS-US contingency before conditioning. The second group was instructed to discover the CS-US contingency. The third group did not receive any contingency instructions. We found facilitated fear acquisition (using skin conductance and startle) and increased contingency awareness in the first and second group compared to the third group. Furthermore, contingency reversal instructions immediately reversed conditioned responses. Based on these results, we advise to systematically report the contingency instructions used in fear conditioning research.
Original languageEnglish
Article number107994
Number of pages10
JournalBiological Psychology
Publication statusPublished - 2021


  • Fear conditioning
  • Instructions
  • Psychophysiology
  • Replicability

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