Original Article

Exp Neurobiol 2018; 27(1): 34-44

Published online February 28, 2018

© The Korean Society for Brain and Neural Sciences

Generalization of Conscious Fear Is Positively Correlated with Anxiety, but Not with Depression

Doyoung Park1†, Hwa-Jin Lee1† and Sue-Hyun Lee1,2*

1Department of Bio and Brain Engineering, College of Engineering, 2Program of Brain and Cognitive Engineering, College of Engineering, Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST), Daejeon 34141, Korea

Correspondence to: *To whom correspondence should be addressed.
TEL: 82-42-350-4311, FAX: 82-42-350-4310
These authors contributed equally

Received: December 23, 2017; Revised: January 24, 2018; Accepted: January 26, 2018

Generalization of learned fear has been considered to be critical for our survival. Patients with anxiety problems show overgeneralization of learned fear, as reflected by defensive physiological responses to harmless stimuli. Together with these physiological responses, conscious feeling of fear is a seminal part of emotional process that is directly related to the suffering of anxiety patients. However, the effect of anxiety on the generalization of conscious feeling remains unclear. We thus focused on the question whether the generalization of conscious feeling of fear depends on individual anxiety level in nonpatient participants. To address this question, we developed a fear generalization paradigm using natural scene images. We found that subjective feeling of fear was generalized to similar stimuli with the conditioned stimuli (CS), and that this generalization of conscious fear was positively correlated with the level of individual anxiety. Anxiety and depression frequently co-occur, but the individual depression level was not correlated with the fear generalization. These suggest that individual anxiety level mainly affects the generalization of conscious fear.

Graphical Abstract

Keywords: generalization, anxiety, conditioning, fear, depression, conscious feeling