Understanding the contributions of visual stimuli to contextual fear conditioning: A proof-of-concept study using LCD screens

Neurosci Lett. 2017 Jan 10;637:80-84. doi: 10.1016/j.neulet.2016.11.046. Epub 2016 Nov 22.


The precise contribution of visual information to contextual fear learning and discrimination has remained elusive. To better understand this contribution, we coupled the context pre-exposure facilitation effect (CPFE) fear conditioning paradigm with presentations of distinct visual scenes displayed on 4 LCD screens surrounding a conditioning chamber. Adult male Long-Evans rats received non-reinforced context pre-exposure on Day 1, an immediate 1.5mA foot shock on Day 2, and a non-reinforced context test on Day 3. Rats were pre-exposed to either digital Context (dCtx) A, dCtx B, a distinct Ctx C, or no context on Day 1. Digital context A and B were identical except for the visual image displayed on the LCD screens. Immediate shock and retention testing occurred in dCtx A. Rats pre-exposed dCtx A showed the CPFE with significantly higher levels of freezing compared to controls. Rats pre-exposed to Context B failed to show the CPFE, with freezing that did not highly differ from controls. These results suggest that visual information contributes to contextual fear learning and that visual components of the context can be manipulated via LCD screens. Our approach offers a simple modification to contextual fear conditioning paradigms whereby the visual features of a context can be manipulated to better understand the factors that contribute to contextual fear discrimination and generalization.

Keywords: CPFE; Contextual fear conditioning; Fear conditioning; Learning and memory; Visual elements; Visual features.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Conditioning, Classical / physiology*
  • Conditioning, Psychological / physiology*
  • Electroshock / methods
  • Fear / physiology*
  • Freezing Reaction, Cataleptic / physiology*
  • Hippocampus / physiology*
  • Male
  • Rats, Long-Evans
  • Reinforcement, Psychology
  • Vision, Ocular