Contextual control of the extinction of conditioned fear: tests for the associative value of the context

J Exp Psychol Anim Behav Process. 1983 Jul;9(3):248-65.


Four conditioned suppression experiments examined the influence of contextual stimuli on the rat's fear of an extinguished conditioned stimulus (CS). When rats received pairings of a CS with shock in one context and then extinction of the CS in another context, fear of the CS was renewed when the CS was returned to and tested in the original context (Experiments 1 and 3). No such renewal was obtained when the CS was tested in a second context after extinction had occurred in the conditioning context (Experiment 4). In Experiment 2, shocks presented following extinction reinstated fear of the CS, but only if they were presented in the context in which the CS was tested. In each experiment, the associative properties of the contexts were independently assessed. Contextual excitation was assessed primarily with context-preference tests in which the rats chose to sit in either the target context or an adjoining side compartment. Contextual inhibition was assessed with summation tests. Although reinstatement was correlated with demonstrable contextual excitation present during testing, the renewal effect was not. Moreover, there was no evidence that contextual inhibition developed during extinction. The results suggest that fear of an extinguished CS can be affected by the excitatory strength of the context but that independently demonstrable contextual excitation or inhibition is not necessary for contexts to control that fear.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Association Learning*
  • Conditioning, Classical*
  • Cues
  • Electroshock
  • Extinction, Psychological*
  • Fear*
  • Inhibition, Psychological
  • Learning*
  • Male
  • Pitch Perception
  • Rats
  • Rats, Inbred Strains