Using Mental Imagery to Rescript Emotional Memories in a Fear Conditioning Paradigm
In classical fear conditioning, a neutral stimulus (for example, a red car) becomes associated with a fearful event (for example, being in a car crash). Because of this association, the original fear response becomes associated with the neutral stimulus. A reduction of this fear response can be achieved by extinction learning: repeated exposure to the neutral stimulus in the absence of the fearful event. A new memory trace is created where the neutral stimulus predicts the absence rather than the presence of the fearful event. This new memory trace competes with the original memory trace (where the neutral stimulus still predicts the fearful event). Because the original memory trace remains intact, this form of fear reduction is very susceptible to relapse (i.e., return of the fear response). The main challenge of the research field today is to find new ways of fear reduction that change the original memory trace directly. The current research project will study the effect of using mental imagery to rescript emotional memories in a fear conditioning paradigm. Participants will be exposed to a laboratory controlled fearful event. One day later, they are asked to recall this event again, but this time to use mental imagery to rescript a more favorable outcome of the memory. Using a fear conditioning paradigm, we will test whether this ‘imagery rescripting’ indeed changes the meaning of the fearful event, and its effects on fear learning and extinction.