The role of awareness in delay and trace fear conditioning in humans

Cogn Affect Behav Neurosci. 2006 Jun;6(2):157-62. doi: 10.3758/cabn.6.2.157.


Expression of conditional fear without awareness has been previously demonstrated during delay conditioning, a procedure in which the conditioned stimulus (CS) and unconditioned stimulus (UCS) overlap. However, less is known about the role of awareness in trace fear conditioning, where an interval of time separates the CS and UCS. The present study assessed skin conductance response (SCR) and UCS expectancy during delay and trace conditioning. UCS predictability was varied on a trial-by-trial basis by presenting perithreshold auditory CSs. Differential UCS expectancies were demonstrated only on perceived delay and trace trials. Learning-related SCRs were observed during both perceived and unperceived delay CSs. In contrast, differential SCRs were demonstrated only for perceived trace CSs. These data suggest that awareness is necessary for conditional responding during trace, but not delay, fear conditioning.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Intramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Awareness*
  • Cognition / physiology
  • Conditioning, Psychological*
  • Fear*
  • Female
  • Galvanic Skin Response
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Time Factors