A review on human reinstatement studies: an overview and methodological challenges

Learn Mem. 2014 Aug 15;21(9):424-40. doi: 10.1101/lm.036053.114. Print 2014 Sep.


In human research, studies of return of fear (ROF) phenomena, and reinstatement in particular, began only a decade ago and recently are more widely used, e.g., as outcome measures for fear/extinction memory manipulations (e.g., reconsolidation). As reinstatement research in humans is still in its infancy, providing an overview of its stability and boundary conditions and summarizing methodological challenges is timely to foster fruitful future research. As a translational endeavor, clarifying the circumstances under which (experimental) reinstatement occurs may offer a first step toward understanding relapse as a clinical phenomenon and pave the way for the development of new pharmacological or behavioral ways to prevent ROF. The current state of research does not yet allow pinpointing these circumstances in detail and we hope this review will aid the research field to advance in this direction. As an introduction, we begin with a synopsis of rodent work on reinstatement and theories that have been proposed to explain the findings. The review however mainly focuses on reinstatement in humans. We first describe details and variations of the experimental setup in reinstatement studies in humans and give a general overview of results. We continue with a compilation of possible experimental boundary conditions and end with the role of individual differences and behavioral and/or pharmacological manipulations. Furthermore, we compile important methodological and design details on the published studies in humans and end with open research questions and some important methodological and design recommendations as a guide for future research.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Conditioning, Classical
  • Extinction, Psychological*
  • Fear / psychology*
  • Humans
  • Mental Recall
  • Time Factors