Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name



Cognitive Neuroscience


David Johnson

Subject Categories

Behavioral Neurobiology | Cognitive Neuroscience | Cognitive Psychology | Other Mental and Social Health


fear extinction learning, anticipatory anxiety, skin conductance


Adaptive regulation of fear is dependent on successful fear extinction learning; therefore, investigating factors that both enhance and diminish fear extinction learning is a critical line of research. In the present study, we induce mild anticipatory anxiety during fear extinction learning in an attempt to modulate how participants extinguish fear memory. In the experiment, we apply a classic three-day fear learning protocol to both control participants (N = 20) and an experimental group (N = 20) with fear acquisition, fear extinction, and fear recovery phases; each phase is separated by a period of 24 hours and we use a skin conductance response as an index of fear learning. Unlike control participants, experimental participants are verbally instructed that they may receive an additional, unrelated aversive stimulus on day two of the experiment, prior to the onset of the fear learning phase, thus inducing mild anticipatory anxiety. To investigate the effect of anticipatory anxiety on fear extinction learning, we compared mean skin conductance responses between condition groups for all three phases of the experiment. We also accounted for the effect of stimulus type (paired conditioned stimulus, unpaired conditioned stimulus) on mean skin conductance responses for each experimental phase. Ultimately, we found evidence that our novel induction of anticipatory anxiety enhanced fear extinction learning in the experimental group, relative to the control group. Likewise, we found preliminary evidence that our methodology diminished fear recovery 24 hours later in the experimental group, relative to controls. Our findings are partially supported by previous studies and justify the need for further research on how mild anticipatory anxiety, among other factors, might enhance fear extinction learning.