Header

UZH-Logo

Maintenance Infos

Evidence for a minimal role of stimulus awareness in reversal of threat learning


Homan, Philipp; Lau, H Lee; Levy, Ifat; Raio, Candace M; Bach, Dominik R; Carmel, David; Schiller, Daniela (2021). Evidence for a minimal role of stimulus awareness in reversal of threat learning. Learning & Memory, 28(3):95-103.

Abstract

In an ever-changing environment, survival depends on learning which stimuli represent threat, and also on updating such associations when circumstances shift. It has been claimed that humans can acquire physiological responses to threat-associated stimuli even when they are unaware of them, but the role of awareness in updating threat contingencies remains unknown. This complex process-generating novel responses while suppressing learned ones-relies on distinct neural mechanisms from initial learning, and has only been shown with awareness. Can it occur unconsciously? Here, we present evidence that threat reversal may not require awareness. Participants underwent classical threat conditioning to visual stimuli that were suppressed from awareness. One of two images was paired with an electric shock; halfway through the experiment, contingencies were reversed and the shock was paired with the other image. Despite variations in suppression across participants, we found that physiological responses reflected changes in stimulus-threat pairings independently of stimulus awareness. These findings suggest that unconscious affective processing may be sufficiently flexible to adapt to changing circumstances.

Abstract

In an ever-changing environment, survival depends on learning which stimuli represent threat, and also on updating such associations when circumstances shift. It has been claimed that humans can acquire physiological responses to threat-associated stimuli even when they are unaware of them, but the role of awareness in updating threat contingencies remains unknown. This complex process-generating novel responses while suppressing learned ones-relies on distinct neural mechanisms from initial learning, and has only been shown with awareness. Can it occur unconsciously? Here, we present evidence that threat reversal may not require awareness. Participants underwent classical threat conditioning to visual stimuli that were suppressed from awareness. One of two images was paired with an electric shock; halfway through the experiment, contingencies were reversed and the shock was paired with the other image. Despite variations in suppression across participants, we found that physiological responses reflected changes in stimulus-threat pairings independently of stimulus awareness. These findings suggest that unconscious affective processing may be sufficiently flexible to adapt to changing circumstances.

Statistics

Citations

Dimensions.ai Metrics
5 citations in Web of Science®
4 citations in Scopus®
Google Scholar™

Altmetrics

Downloads

4 downloads since deposited on 14 Feb 2023
1 download since 12 months
Detailed statistics

Additional indexing

Item Type:Journal Article, refereed, original work
Communities & Collections:04 Faculty of Medicine > Psychiatric University Hospital Zurich > Clinic for Psychiatry, Psychotherapy, and Psychosomatics
Dewey Decimal Classification:610 Medicine & health
Scopus Subject Areas:Social Sciences & Humanities > Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
Life Sciences > Cognitive Neuroscience
Life Sciences > Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience
Language:English
Date:March 2021
Deposited On:14 Feb 2023 17:00
Last Modified:28 Apr 2024 01:50
Publisher:Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press
ISSN:1072-0502
OA Status:Hybrid
Free access at:PubMed ID. An embargo period may apply.
Publisher DOI:https://doi.org/10.1101/lm.050997.119
PubMed ID:33593928
  • Content: Published Version
  • Language: English
  • Licence: Creative Commons: Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International (CC BY-NC 4.0)