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The current experiment investigated whether overgeneralization of fear could be due to an inability to perceptually discriminate the initial fear-evoking stimulus from similar stimuli, as fear learning-induced perceptual impairments have been reported but their influence on generalization gradients remain to be elucidated. Three hundred and sixty-eight healthy volunteers participated in a differential fear conditioning paradigm with circles of different sizes as conditioned stimuli (CS), of which one was paired to an aversive IAPS picture. During generalization, each subject was presented with one of 10 different sized circles including the CSs, and were asked to categorize the stimulus as either a CS or as novel after fear responses were recorded. Linear mixed models were used to investigate differences in fear generalization gradients depending on the participant's perception of the test stimulus. We found that the incorrect perception of a novel stimulus as the initial fear-evoking stimulus strongly boosted fear responses. The current findings demonstrate that a significant number of novel stimuli used to assess generalization are incorrectly identified as the initial fear-evoking stimulus, providing a perceptual account for the observed overgeneralization in panic and anxiety disorders. Accordingly, enhancing perceptual processing may be a promising treatment for targeting excessive fear generalization.
This article was published in the following journal.
Name: Behaviour research and therapy
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Anxiety disorders in which the essential feature is persistent and irrational fear of a specific object, activity, or situation that the individual feels compelled to avoid. The individual recognizes the fear as excessive or unreasonable.
A type of anxiety disorder characterized by unexpected panic attacks that last minutes or, rarely, hours. Panic attacks begin with intense apprehension, fear or terror and, often, a feeling of impending doom. Symptoms experienced during a panic attack include dyspnea or sensations of being smothered; dizziness, loss of balance or faintness; choking sensations; palpitations or accelerated heart rate; shakiness; sweating; nausea or other form of abdominal distress; depersonalization or derealization; paresthesias; hot flashes or chills; chest discomfort or pain; fear of dying and fear of not being in control of oneself or going crazy. Agoraphobia may also develop. Similar to other anxiety disorders, it may be inherited as an autosomal dominant trait.
Intense or irrational dislike or fear of anything that is strange or foreign, particularly of people who are strangers or foreigners. It is an attitudinal orientation of hostility against non-natives in a given population that includes attitudes, prejudices and behavior that reject, exclude or vilify persons, based on the perception that they are outsiders or foreigners to the community, society or national identity.
Obsessive, persistent, intense fear of open places.
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