Intrusive memories as conditioned responses to trauma cues: An empirically supported concept?

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Publisher: Elsevier Science Publishers
Document Type: Report; Brief article
Length: 337 words

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Keywords Posttraumatic stress disorder; Pavlovian conditioning; Exposure therapy; Extinction; Trauma film; Imagery; Intrusive memories Highlights * Conditioned stimuli (CS) were not only reminder cues, but also content of intrusions. * Immediate extinction (vs. acquisition-only) reduced the probability of intrusions. * In part, conditionability during fear acquisition moderated these extinction effects. * Results support a conditioning framework for understanding intrusions. Abstract Intrusions in posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are clinically understood as conditioned responses (CRs) to trauma-cues; however, experimental evidence for this is limited. We subjected 84 healthy participants to a differential conditioned-intrusion paradigm, where neutral faces served as conditioned stimuli (CSs) and aversive film clips as unconditioned stimuli (USs). While one group only completed acquisition, another group additionally received extinction. Subsequently, participants provided detailed e-diary intrusion reports. Several key findings emerged: First, participants in both groups re-experienced not only USs but also CSs as content of their intrusions. Second, intrusions were elicited by cues resembling CSs, USs, and experimental context. Third, extinction reduced probability and severity of US intrusions, and accelerated their decay, and this was particularly the case in participants showing greater cognitive (US-expectancy) and physiological (SCR) differential responding to CS+ vs. CS- at end of acquisition (i.e., conditionability). Similarly, extinction reduced CS-intrusion probability and severity, but only in participants with greater cognitive conditionability. These results support conditioning's role in re-experiencing in two critical ways: (1) Conditioning during trauma provides cues that not only function as reminder cues, but also as content of intrusions; (2) After strong conditioning, weakening the original CS-US relationship via extinction reduces intrusion formation after analogue-trauma. Author Affiliation: (a) Division of Clinical Psychology and Psychopathology, Department of Psychology, Paris-Lodron-University Salzburg, Austria (b) Department of Computer Science, Aalto University, Finland * Corresponding author. University of Salzburg, Department of Psychology, Hellbrunner Straße 34, 5020, Salzburg, Austria. Article History: Received 19 August 2020; Revised 11 February 2021; Accepted 15 March 2021 Byline: Laila K. Franke [lailakatharina.franke@sbg.ac.at] (a,*), Julina A. Rattel (a), Stephan F. Miedl (a), Sarah K. Danböck (a), Paul-Christian Bürkner (b), Frank H. Wilhelm (a)

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Gale Document Number: GALE|A665686084