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Genetics of Childhood Disorders: L. Learning and Memory, Part 3: Fear Conditioning

  • KERRY RESSLER
    Affiliations
    Dr. Ressler is an Assistant Professor and Dr. Davis is the Robert W. Woodruff Professor, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Center for Behavioral Neuroscience, Emory University School of Medicine, Atlanta
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  • MICHAEL DAVIS
    Correspondence
    Correspondence to Dr. Lombroso, Child Study Center, Yale University School of Medicine, 230 South Frontage Road, New Haven, CT 06520
    Affiliations
    Dr. Ressler is an Assistant Professor and Dr. Davis is the Robert W. Woodruff Professor, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Center for Behavioral Neuroscience, Emory University School of Medicine, Atlanta
    Search for articles by this author
      Described initially at the beginning of the 20th century by Ivan Pavlov, classical conditioning involves the pairing of neutral stimuli with aversive or appetitive cues. This results in learning. Formally neutral stimuli now predict salient events. One form of Pavlovian conditioning is fear conditioning, the primary associative learning mechanism involved in aversive emotional learning. It is through this process that we learn to be fearful of people, animals, objects, and places. From a psychological perspective, it is one of best understood types of learning in mammals because the stimulus and response properties can be very carefully controlled. For these reasons, Pavlovian fear conditioning has served as a powerful animal model of fear and anxiety disorders including phobia, panic disorder, post‐traumatic stress disorder, and possibly many of the “neurotic” associations of everyday life. If we can understand the underlying molecular basis for how a previously innocuous stimulus leads to intense fear in an animal model, the hope is that such an understanding will eventually lead to better treatments in humans disabled by these crippling disorders.
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