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Learned safety contingent on cognitive evaluation bridging the gap between extinction and cognitive reappraisal

MacDonald, B. E. (2018) Learned safety contingent on cognitive evaluation bridging the gap between extinction and cognitive reappraisal. PhD thesis, University of Reading

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Abstract/Summary

Reduced ability to regulate emotions has been determined as a major factor in many psychological disorders. Traditionally, emotion regulation is investigated in paradigms using complex negative images, and cognitive reappraisal strategies to regulate emotion. However, it has been argued that the extinction of conditioned responses to simple stimuli shares many of the basic mechanisms involved in emotion regulation. Studies have shown that safety signals can effectively reduce conditioned responses. This project aimed to expand on this idea by adding a cognitive evaluative element to reduce a conditioned response. In this paradigm participants were conditioned to associate a simple stimulus with an aversive event. Subsequently, information was added to this stimulus that required cognitive evaluation to ascertain whether each trial was safe or maintained the risk of the aversive event. On a neural level we found increased responses in a circuit associated with threat appraisal during dangerous trials. During safe trials on the other hand, we found activation in areas associated with some of the cognitive mechanisms involved in emotion regulation. To investigate the potential of this paradigm for clinical research, we investigated the effect of trait anxiety on the physiological and neural correlates involved. We found that high anxious participants showed a pattern of responding that suggested increased sensitivity to threat as well as altered processing of safety information. Taken together these findings show that conditioned responses can be reduced through cognitive evaluation and results suggest that some of the mechanisms and brain regions involved overlap with those recruited during emotion regulation tasks. Furthermore, high anxious participants showed a pattern of responding that is consistent with the idea that safety signals are not processed effectively in this group. We conclude that adaptations of this paradigm will be useful to further investigate the basic mechanisms involved in emotion regulation.

Item Type:Thesis (PhD)
Thesis Supervisor:Johnstone, T. and Salomons, T.
Thesis/Report Department:School of Psychology and Clinical Language Sciences
Identification Number/DOI:
Divisions:Faculty of Life Sciences > School of Psychology and Clinical Language Sciences > Department of Psychology
ID Code:77723
Date on Title Page:2017

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