- Fear generalization in humans: impact of verbal instructions
- Behaviour Research and Therapy
- Volume | Issue number
- 48 | 1
- Pages (from-to)
- Document type
- Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences (FMG)
- Psychology Research Institute (PsyRes)
Fear generalization lies at the heart of many anxiety problems, but little is known about the factors that can influence this phenomenon. The present study investigated whether verbal instructions about specific stimulus features can influence conditioned fear generalization. All participants were fear conditioned to a yellow triangle, using an electric shock. Participants had received pre-experimental instructions saying that the shapes (or colours) of the stimuli were informative for the occurrence of shock (group Shape and group Colour, respectively). Next, generalization was tested to presentations of a blue triangle (same shape) as well as a yellow square (same colour). Fear reactions were measured through skin conductance and online ratings of shock-expectancy. The results showed strongest generalization to the same shape stimulus in group Shape, versus the same colour stimulus in group Colour. Hence, the same learning experience can have opposite effects in terms of fear generalization, depending on verbally transmitted information about the relative importance of individual stimulus features.
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