Extending animal models of fear conditioning to humans

Biol Psychol. 2006 Jul;73(1):39-48. doi: 10.1016/j.biopsycho.2006.01.006. Epub 2006 Feb 10.


A goal of fear and anxiety research is to understand how to treat the potentially devastating effects of anxiety disorders in humans. Much of this research utilizes classical fear conditioning, a simple paradigm that has been extensively investigated in animals, helping outline a brain circuitry thought to be responsible for the acquisition, expression and extinction of fear. The findings from non-human animal research have more recently been substantiated and extended in humans, using neuropsychological and neuroimaging methodologies. Research across species concur that the neural correlates of fear conditioning include involvement of the amygdala during all stages of fear learning, and prefrontal areas during the extinction phase. This manuscript reviews how animal models of fear are translated to human behavior, and how some fears are more easily acquired in humans (i.e., social-cultural). Finally, using the knowledge provided by a rich animal literature, we attempt to extend these findings to human models targeted to helping facilitate extinction or abolishment of fears, a trademark of anxiety disorders, by discussing efficacy in modulating the brain circuitry involved in fear conditioning via pharmacological treatments or emotion regulation cognitive strategies.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Amygdala / physiopathology*
  • Animals
  • Anxiety Disorders / physiopathology*
  • Arousal / physiology
  • Association Learning / physiology
  • Conditioning, Classical / physiology*
  • Disease Models, Animal*
  • Extinction, Psychological / physiology
  • Fear / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Limbic System / physiopathology*
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Nerve Net / physiopathology
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiopathology*
  • Social Environment
  • Species Specificity