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Mixed evidence for the potential of non-invasive transcutaneous vagal nerve stimulation to improve the extinction and retention of fear

Tijdschriftbijdrage - Tijdschriftartikel

Extinction memories are fragile and their formation has been proposed to partially rely on vagus nerve activity. We tested whether stimulating the auricular branch of the vagus (transcutaneous VNS; tVNS) accelerates extinction and reduces spontaneous recovery of fear. Forty-two healthy students participated in a 3-day fear conditioning study, where we tested fear acquisition (day 1), fear extinction (day 2) and the retention of the extinction memory (day 3). During extinction, participants were randomly allocated to receive tVNS or sham stimulation concurrently with each CS presentation. During the acquisition and retention phases, all participants received sham stimulation. Indexes of fear included US-expectancy, startle blink EMG and skin conductance responses. Results showed successful acquisition and extinction of fear in all measures. tVNS facilitated the extinction of declarative fear (US expectancy ratings), but did not promote a stronger retention of the declarative extinction memory. No clear effects of tVNS on extinction and retention of extinction were found for the psychophysiological indexes. The present findings provide tentative indications that tVNS could be a promising tool to improve fear extinction and call for larger scale studies to replicate these effects.
Tijdschrift: Behaviour research and therapy
ISSN: 0005-7967
Volume: 97
Pagina's: 64 - 74
Jaar van publicatie:2017