Mechanisms of Threat Control in Humans

Summary

Date: 
December 17, 2019 - 12:00pm - 1:00pm
Location: 
Bio. Labs 1080
About the Speaker
Name: 
Liz Phelps
Speaker Title: 
Professor
Speaker Affiliation: 
Harvard University

Animal models of associative threat learning provide a basis for understanding human fears and anxiety. Building on research from animal models, I will explore a range of means maladaptive defensive responses can be acquired and diminished in humans. First, I will outline how extinction and emotion regulation, techniques adapted in cognitive behavioral therapy, can be used to control learned defensive responses via inhibitory signals from the ventromedial prefrontal cortex to the amygdala. One drawback of these techniques is that these responses are only inhibited and can return, with one factor being stress. I will then review research examining the lasting control of maladaptive defensive responses by targeting memory reconsolidation and present evidence suggesting that the behavioral interference of reconsolidation in humans diminishes involvement of the prefrontal cortex inhibatory circuitry, although there are limitations to its efficacy. Finally, I will describe two novel behavioral techniques that might result in a more lasting fear reduction by providing control over the stressor and introducing novelty.