Behaviour Research and Therapy vol:43 issue:4 pages:533-551
The treatment of choice for a number of anxiety disorders is exposure therapy. However, successful reduction of fear through exposure is sometimes followed by a (partial) return of symptoms of fear (return of fear, ROF; Clin. Psychol. Rev. 9 (1989) 147). Several possible learning mechanisms have been suggested to explain ROF (e.g. mechanisms related to spontaneous recovery, renewal, reacquisition and reinstatement). The present study focuses on reinstatement, which refers to the observation that mere US-only presentations can 'reinstate' previously extinguished fear responses. Although animal research has repeatedly demonstrated this phenomenon, little is known about fear reinstatement in humans. The present study employed a differential aversive conditioning procedure: after acquisition and a subsequent extinction procedure, a series of four unpredicted US-only trials was scheduled in the reinstatement group. The control group did not receive additional US presentations. A significant reinstatement effect was observed for US-expectancy ratings and fear ratings in the reinstatement group, but not in the control group. No differences were observed in a reaction time measure of resource allocation to the conditioned stimuli. These findings constitute a first demonstration of reinstatement of conditioned fear responses in humans. Implications for exposure treatment and suggestions for future research are discussed. (c) 2004 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.