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    Qin, H. and Dubnau, J. 2010. Genetic disruptions ofDrosophilaPavlovian learning leave extinction learning intact. Genes, Brain and Behavior, Vol. 9, Issue. 2, p. 203.

  • Print publication year: 2007
  • Online publication date: July 2009

4 - Mechanisms of Fear Extinction: Toward Improved Treatment for Anxiety



Extinction is the explicit model for the treatment of human anxiety disorders by behavior and cognitive behavior therapy (Craske, 1999). These therapies depend crucially on deliberate exposure to cues that generate fear or anxiety in patients in order to reduce gradually the amount of distress such cues cause when encountered during the course of the patient's usual activities, and they are extremely effective. They are also based directly on scientific studies of extinction. The first to use such a protocol for a human subject was Mary Cover Jones in 1924. Jones's successful treatment of little Peter, a two-year-old boy with phobias of rabbits, dogs, cats, stuffed animals, and even of shawls, was inspired by Pavlov's extinction of conditioned salivary responses in dogs (Jones, 1924). Later, Joseph Wolpe based his gradual desensitization method of behavior therapy on his own experiments on fear-conditioned cats (Wolpe, 1969). Wolpe's model of behavior therapy remains in active and successful use to this day.

Nevertheless, although behavior therapy is effective, it still suffers from the limitations of all forms of psychotherapy. That is, it is slow, it requires great effort from the patient and therapist, and it does not always work. Even when it does work, patients remain subject to relapses. These drawbacks are only intensified in the context of PTSD, which is notoriously difficult to treat (McFarlane, 1994).

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