Cognitive processes during fear acquisition and extinction in animals and humans: implications for exposure therapy of anxiety disorders

Clin Psychol Rev. 2008 Feb;28(2):199-210. doi: 10.1016/j.cpr.2007.04.009. Epub 2007 May 3.


Anxiety disorders are highly prevalent. Fear conditioning and extinction learning in animals often serve as simple models of fear acquisition and exposure therapy of anxiety disorders in humans. This article reviews the empirical and theoretical literature on cognitive processes in fear acquisition, extinction, and exposure therapy. It is concluded that exposure therapy is a form of cognitive intervention that specifically changes the expectancy of harm. Implications for therapy research are discussed.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Amygdala / physiopathology
  • Animals
  • Anxiety Disorders / physiopathology
  • Anxiety Disorders / psychology
  • Anxiety Disorders / therapy*
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy*
  • Conditioning, Classical* / physiology
  • Culture
  • Desensitization, Psychologic*
  • Extinction, Psychological* / physiology
  • Fear* / physiology
  • Fear* / psychology
  • Humans
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiopathology