For decades already, the human fear conditioning paradigm has been used to study and develop treatments for anxiety disorders. This research is guided by theoretical assumptions that, in some cases indirectly, stem from the tradition of association formation models (e.g., the Rescorla-Wagner model). We argue that one of these assumptions – fear responding as a monotonic function of the associative activation of aversive memory representations – restricts the types of treatment that the research community currently considers. We discuss the importance of this assumption in the context of research on extinction-enhancing and reconsolidation interference techniques. While acknowledging the merit of this research, we argue that unstrapping the straitjacket of this assumption can lead to exploring new directions for utilizing fear conditioning procedures in treatment research. We discuss two determinants of fear responding other than associative memory activation. First, fear responding might also depend on relational information. Second, a recent goal-directed emotion theory suggests that goals might be the primary determinant of the response pattern characterized as fear.
- ANXIETY DISORDERS
- EXPOSURE THERAPY
- Fear conditioning
- VENTROMEDIAL PREFRONTAL CORTEX