Learned fear of "unseen" faces after Pavlovian, observational, and instructed fear

Psychol Sci. 2004 Dec;15(12):822-8. doi: 10.1111/j.0956-7976.2004.00762.x.


This study compared fear learning acquired through direct experience (Pavlovian conditioning) and fear learning acquired without direct experience via either observation or verbal instruction. We examined whether these three types of learning yielded differential responses to conditioned stimuli (CS+) that were presented unmasked (available to explicit awareness) or masked (not available to explicit awareness). In the Pavlovian group, the CS+ was paired with a mild shock, whereas the observational-learning group learned through observing the emotional expression of a confederate receiving shocks paired with the CS+. The instructed-learning group was told that the CS+ predicted a shock. The three groups demonstrated similar levels of learning as measured by the skin conductance response to unmasked stimuli. As in previous studies, participants also displayed a significant learning response to masked stimuli following Pavlovian conditioning. However, whereas the observational-learning group also showed this effect, the instructed-learning group did not.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Analysis of Variance
  • Awareness / physiology
  • Conditioning, Classical / physiology*
  • Electroshock / psychology
  • Emotions / physiology
  • Extinction, Psychological / physiology
  • Facial Expression*
  • Fear / physiology
  • Fear / psychology*
  • Galvanic Skin Response / physiology
  • Habituation, Psychophysiologic / physiology
  • Humans
  • Learning / physiology*
  • Perceptual Masking / physiology*
  • Students / psychology
  • Verbal Learning / physiology