In the Blink of an Eye: Investigating the Role of Awareness in Fear Responding by Measuring the Latency of Startle Potentiation
The latency of startle reflex potentiation may shed light on the aware and unaware processes underlying associative learning, especially associative fear learning. We review research suggesting that single-cue delay classical conditioning is independent of awareness of the contingency between the conditioned stimulus (CS) and the unconditioned stimulus (US). Moreover, we discuss research that argues that conditioning independent of awareness has not been proven. Subsequently, three studies from our lab are presented that have investigated the role of awareness in classical conditioning, by measuring the minimum latency from CS onset to observed changes in reflexive behavior. In sum, research using this method shows that startle is potentiated 30 to 100 ms after CS onset following delay conditioning. Following trace fear conditioning, startle is potentiated 1500 ms after CS presentation. These results indicate that the process underlying delay conditioned responding is independent of awareness, and that trace fear conditioned responding is dependent on awareness. Finally, this method of investigating the role of awareness is discussed and future research possibilities are proposed.
SiteringBrain Sciences 2(2012) nr. 1 s. 61-84
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