Attentional Effects on Conditioned Inhibition of Discrete and Contextual Stimuli
In the present study, we examined the predictions of an attentional-associative model (Schmajuk, Lam, & Gray Journal of Experimental Psychology: Animal Behavior Processes, 22, 321-349, 1996) regarding the effect of attentional manipulations on both discrete and contextual conditioned inhibitors.
The SLG model assumes that non-reinforced presentations of an inhibitory conditioned stimulus (CS) do not decrease its inhibitory associations. However, the model predicts that extended presentations will decrease attention to the inhibitor, thereby, decreasing both the expression of its inhibitory power in a summation test and the rate of acquisition in a retardation test. The model also predicts that subsequent presentations of the inhibitory CS with a novel CS will increase both its inhibitory power in a summation test and the rate of acquisition in a retardation test. Using a predictive learning design in humans, Experiment 1 examined the predictions involving the summation tests, whereas Experiments 2 and 3 examined the predictions involving the retardation tests. Experimental results were in agreement with the predictions of the model.
The SLG model also predicts that a salient extinction context (CX) becomes inhibitory and prevents extinction of the excitatory CS-unconditioned stimulus (US) association. Although some data seem to contradict that prediction (e.g., Bouton and King, 1983, Bouton and Swartzentruber, 1986, 1989), Larrauri and Schmajuk (2008) indicated that the CX might not appear inhibitory in a summation test because attention to the CX decreases with many but not few extinction trials. In a human predictive learning experiment, we confirmed the model's predictions that the inhibitory power of the extinction CX can be detected after a few extinction trials when attention to the CX is still high, but not after many extinction trials once attention to the CX has decreased (Experiment 4), and even after many extinction trials by presenting novel CSs to increase attention to the unattended CX (Experiment 5). Furthermore, using an eye-tracker, we confirmed the model's explanation of Experiment 4 results by showing decreased overt attention to the CX after many but not after few extinction trials (Experiment 6).
Importantly, the view that the extinction CX becomes inhibitory allows the model to explain spontaneous recovery (because attention to the excitatory CS increases before attention to the inhibitory CX), renewal (because the inhibition provided by the extinction CX disappears), and reinstatement (the inhibitory CX becomes neutral or excitatory), as well as a very large number of other experimental results related to extinction. Based on the prediction of the SLG, model the implications of our results for the treatments of anxiety disorders were discussed.
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