Reappraisal facilitates extinction in healthy and socially anxious individuals

J Behav Ther Exp Psychiatry. 2015 Mar;46:141-50. doi: 10.1016/j.jbtep.2014.10.001.


Background and objectives: Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) combines cognitive restructuring with exposure to feared stimuli in the treatment of anxiety disorders. Due to the complexities of cognition–emotion interactions during ongoing CBT, the underlying mechanisms remain unclear, which hinders treatment optimization.

Methods: We created a laboratory analogue by combining reappraisal, a key ingredient of cognitive restructuring, with Pavlovian conditioning, a key ingredient in behavioral treatments. The novel differential Pavlovian acquisition and extinction task featured social stimuli as conditioned and unconditioned stimuli under unregulated and reappraisal instructions.

Results: Findings indicated that reappraising the conditioned stimuli attenuated acquisition (Study 1) and facilitated extinction (Study 2) of conditioned negative valence. In Study 3, highly socially anxious individuals showed deficient extinction learning relative to low socially anxious individuals but compensated for this by using reappraisal.

Limitations: Diagnostic status of participants was not assessed in structured clinical interviews.

Conclusions: Reappraisal of feared stimuli could be useful in prevention and treatment of social anxiety.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy / methods*
  • Conditioning, Classical
  • Extinction, Psychological / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Phobic Disorders / psychology*
  • Phobic Disorders / rehabilitation*
  • Photic Stimulation
  • Young Adult