Date Thesis Awarded

4-2017

Document Type

Honors Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelors of Science (BS)

Department

Psychology

Advisor

Christopher C. Conway

Committee Member

Robert Barnet

Committee Member

Robert Scholnick

Abstract

Fear conditioning is an associative learning paradigm that can be used to examine the acquisition and extinction of learned fear in various populations. Unusual patterns in fear conditioning are known to be associated with different types of psychopathology, and anxiety in particular has been studied extensively in relation to fear conditioning. However, far less is known about fear conditioning in nonclinical samples, particularly with regards to personality. The aim of the current study is to examine the acquisition and extinction of conditioned fear as it relates to neuroticism. The study utilized both physiological and subjective measures of learned fear, allowing for comparison across domains of fear expression. Eyeblink startle responses indicated that fear conditioning did not take place, with no significant differences in startle response magnitude in the presence of the conditioned and the unconditioned stimulus. Neuroticism was not found to be associated with greater eyeblink startle to either stimulus type. However, subjective fear ratings revealed an increase in fear of the conditioned stimulus following the acquisition phase, and a decrease in fear of the conditioned stimulus following the extinction phase, indicating that fear conditioning did in fact take place. Neuroticism was positively correlated with fear of the conditioned stimulus in the acquisition phase, indicating that more neurotic individuals may in fact acquire fear more readily than less neurotic individuals. Neuroticism was also associated with greater fear of the conditioned stimulus following extinction, suggesting that neurotic individuals may have difficulty learning when a stimulus no longer predicts threat. These findings indicate that neuroticism does impact both acquisition and extinction of conditioned fear, and there is a need for further replication in order to better understand the discrepancies between physiological and subjective measures in assessing fear conditioning.

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