Although overgeneralization seems to be a hallmark of several anxiety disorders, this until now has not been investigated in social anxiety disorder (SAD). Therefore, we examined fear generalization in 26 SAD patients and 29 healthy controls (HC) using two faces as conditioned stimuli (CS+, CS−), and a loud scream and a fearful face as unconditioned stimulus (US). Generalization was tested by presenting both CS and four morphs of the two faces (generalization stimuli [GSs]), while ratings, heart rate (HR) and skin conductance responses (SCR) were recorded. Results revealed that SAD patients rated all stimuli as less pleasant and more arousing compared to HC. Moreover, ratings and SCR indicated that both groups generalized their acquired fear from the CS+ to GSs. Remarkably, only SAD patients showed generalization in HR responses (fear bradycardia). Overall, SAD seems not to be characterized by strong overgeneralization but discrepancies in fear responses to both conditioned and generalized threat stimuli.

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Journal of Anxiety Disorders
Department of Psychology

Ahrens, L.M. (Lea M.), Pauli, P. (Paul), Reif, A., Mühlberger, A. (Andreas), Langs, G. (Gernot), Aalderink, T. (Tim), & Wieser, M. (2016). Fear conditioning and stimulus generalization in patients with social anxiety disorder. Journal of Anxiety Disorders, 44, 36–46. doi:10.1016/j.janxdis.2016.10.003