Characterization of a psychophysiological model of classical fear conditioning in healthy volunteers: influence of gender, instruction, personality and placebo

Francisco S. Guimarães, J. S E Hellewell, R Hensman, M Wang, J F Deakin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Two experiments are described which evaluate the role of associative mechanisms and placebo effects on aversively conditioned skin conductance responses in groups of healthy volunteers. In both experiments, skin conductance level (SCL), variability (spontaneous fluctuations, SF) and amplitude (SCR) were recorded during a sequence of tone stimuli (80 dB, 1 s, 360 Hz). All the variables habituated during the first ten presentations of the tones. Tone 11 was immediately followed by a loud (100 dB) aversive brief (1 s) white noise UCS. The conditioning trial significantly enhanced SCRs to a further ten presentations of the tones and increased SCL and variability (SF). No enhancement of SCRs occurred when tone 11 was omitted and the UCS occurred in temporal isolation (experiment 1). Thus enhanced SCRs to tones following paired tone-noise presentation involves an associative mechanism. Increased "spontaneous" variability was shown to involve both conditioning and sensitization following the UCS. In both experiments females showed greater conditioned SCRs than males. In experiment 2 no effect of "anxiolytic" placebo could be discerned and there were no general relationships between questionnaires scores of extraversion or neuroticism with skin conductance measures in a group of 40 volunteers. The results question the role of conditionability and autonomic lability as major determinants of extraversion and neuroticism. These studies validate the use of the psychophysiological model of aversive conditioning in pharmacological studies of the mechanisms of habituation, conditioning and sensitization.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)231-6
Number of pages6
JournalPsychopharmacology
Volume104
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1991

Keywords

  • Adult
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Conditioning, Classical
  • Fear
  • Female
  • Galvanic Skin Response
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Models, Psychological
  • Personality
  • Personality Tests
  • Placebos
  • Sex Factors
  • Journal Article
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

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