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Impaired fear extinction associated with PTSD increases with hours-since-waking


Zuj, DV and Palmer, MA and Hsu, KCM and Nicholson, EL and Cushing, PJ and Gray, KE and Felmingham, KL, Impaired fear extinction associated with PTSD increases with hours-since-waking, Depression and Anxiety, 33, (3) pp. 203-210. ISSN 1091-4269 (2016) [Refereed Article]

Copyright Statement

Copyright 2016 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

DOI: doi:10.1002/da.22463


Background: Prior research has demonstrated that time-of-day may play an important role in the extinction of conditioned fear, with extinction better learned earlier in the day rather than later. Impaired fear extinction memory is widely considered a key mechanism of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The relationship between fear extinction and PTSD symptoms may be moderated by hours-since-waking.

Method: In the present experiment, we examined whether hours‐since‐waking would moderate fear extinction learning ability in a clinical PTSD sample (n = 15), compared to trauma‐exposed (n = 33) and nonexposed controls (n = 22). Participants completed a standardized differential fear conditioning and extinction paradigm, providing skin conductance response measures to quantify conditioned responding.

Results: Mixed-model analysis of variance revealed a PTSD-specific impairment in extinction learning ability in the late extinction phase. A moderation analysis showed that hours-since-waking was a significant moderator of the relationship between impaired late extinction and PTSD symptoms. Specifically, we found that participants with higher PTSD symptoms demonstrated poorer fear extinction learning ability as they were awake for longer.

Conclusions: The results of the current study add to a growing literature indicating deficits in fear extinction learning in PTSD samples, compared to trauma-exposed and nonexposed controls. These results support previous findings that fear extinction is impaired later in the day, and extends this to a clinical sample, suggesting that exposure-therapy may be optimized by scheduling sessions in the morning.

Item Details

Item Type:Refereed Article
Keywords:PTSD, fear conditioning, fear extinction, psychophysiology, sleep, time of waking
Research Division:Health Sciences
Research Group:Health services and systems
Research Field:Mental health services
Objective Division:Health
Objective Group:Public health (excl. specific population health)
Objective Field:Mental health
UTAS Author:Zuj, DV (Dr Daniel Zuj)
UTAS Author:Palmer, MA (Associate Professor Matt Palmer)
UTAS Author:Hsu, KCM (Mr Ken Hsu)
UTAS Author:Nicholson, EL (Ms Emma Nicholson)
UTAS Author:Cushing, PJ (Ms Cushing)
UTAS Author:Gray, KE (Miss Katherine Gray)
UTAS Author:Felmingham, KL (Professor Kim Felmingham)
ID Code:108194
Year Published:2016
Web of Science® Times Cited:30
Deposited By:Psychology
Deposited On:2016-04-12
Last Modified:2018-03-22

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