- Neural substrates of individual differences in human fear learning: evidence from concurrent fMRI, fear-potentiated startle, and US-expectancy data
- Cognitive Affective & Behavioral Neuroscience
- Volume | Issue number
- 12 | 3
- Pages (from-to)
- Document type
- Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences (FMG)
- Psychology Research Institute (PsyRes)
To provide insight into individual differences in fear learning, we examined the emotional and cognitive expressions of discriminative fear conditioning in direct relation to its neural substrates. Contrary to previous behavioral-neural (fMRI) research on fear learning—in which the emotional expression of fear was generally indexed by skin conductance—we used fear-potentiated startle, a more reliable and specific index of fear. While we obtained concurrent fear-potentiated startle, neuroimaging (fMRI), and US-expectancy data, healthy participants underwent a fear-conditioning paradigm in which one of two conditioned stimuli (CS+ but not CS-) was paired with a shock (unconditioned stimulus [US]). Fear learning was evident from the differential expressions of fear (CS+ > CS-) at both the behavioral level (startle potentiation and US expectancy) and the neural level (in amygdala, anterior cingulate cortex, hippocampus, and insula). We examined individual differences in discriminative fear conditioning by classifying participants (as conditionable vs. unconditionable) according to whether they showed successful differential startle potentiation. This revealed that the individual differences in the emotional expression of discriminative fear learning (startle potentiation) were reflected in differential amygdala activation, regardless of the cognitive expression of fear learning (CS-US contingency or hippocampal activation). Our study provides the first evidence for the potential of examining startle potentiation in concurrent fMRI research on fear learning.
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