Posted 07.23.2019 | by AMRA
Overcoming irrational fears involves recognizing when stimuli previously associated with danger have ceased their association with that danger. This means “extinguishing” a learned connection between a stimulus and its previously feared negative consequences.
Mindfulness can help with fear extinction by enabling individuals to approach previously feared stimuli with an attitude of non-reactive acceptance. Sevinc et al. [Biological Psychiatry] studied whether a mindfulness-based intervention affects the brain activity underlying the fear extinction process.
The researchers assigned 94 meditation-naive adults (average age = 32 years; 64% female) to either an 8-week mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) program or an 8-week exercise-based stress management education program. Stress education consisted of 8 weekly 2 hour group sessions that included 40 minutes of light aerobic exercise and didactic presentations on coping with stress through exercise, nutrition, humor, and sleep hygiene.
Two weeks before and after intervention, participants underwent a two-day classical fear conditioning and fear extinction paradigm while being monitored by brain imaging (fMRI).
In the fear conditioning paradigm, participants were presented with images of rooms with either red, blue, or yellow lights. An annoying electric shock immediately followed the images of the rooms with the red or blue lights, but not the yellow lights. Fear was considered “conditioned” to the red or blue lights when exposure to those images led to an increase in skin conductance.
After the conditioned skin conductance response (SCR) was acquired, participants were then repeatedly exposed to the image with the red light without a consequent shock in order to extinguish the skin conductance response to that image while maintaining the conditioned skin conductance response to the blue light.
The next day, participant SCRs to the images were reassessed […]