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Gradual extinction prevents the return of fear: implications for the discovery of state

Author(s): Gershman, Samuel J.; Jones, Carolyn E.; Norman, Kenneth A.; Monfils, Marie-H.; Niv, Yael

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Abstract: Fear memories are notoriously difficult to erase, often recovering over time. The longstanding explanation for this finding is that, in extinction training, a new memory is formed that competes with the old one for expression but does not otherwise modify it. This explanation is at odds with traditional models of learning such as Rescorla-Wagner and reinforcement learning. A possible reconciliation that was recently suggested is that extinction training leads to the inference of a new state that is different from the state that was in effect in the original training. This solution, however, raises a new question: under what conditions are new states, or new memories formed? Theoretical accounts implicate persistent large prediction errors in this process. As a test of this idea, we reasoned that careful design of the reinforcement schedule during extinction training could reduce these prediction errors enough to prevent the formation of a new memory, while still decreasing reinforcement sufficiently to drive modification of the old fear memory. In two Pavlovian fear-conditioning experiments, we show that gradually reducing the frequency of aversive stimuli, rather than eliminating them abruptly, prevents the recovery of fear. This finding has important implications for theories of state discovery in reinforcement learning.
Publication Date: 2013
Electronic Publication Date: 2013
Citation: Gershman, Samuel J, Jones, Carolyn E, Norman, Kenneth A, Monfils, Marie-H, Niv, Yael. (2013). Gradual extinction prevents the return of fear: implications for the discovery of state. Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience, 7 (10.3389/fnbeh.2013.00164)
DOI: doi:10.3389/fnbeh.2013.00164
EISSN: 1662-5153
Type of Material: Conference Article
Journal/Proceeding Title: Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience
Version: Final published version. Article is made available in OAR by the publisher's permission or policy.

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