Context-specificity of relapse: Effects of therapist and environmental context on return of fear

Beverly I. Rodriguez*, Michelle G. Craske, Susan Mineka, Deanna Hladek

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

115 Scopus citations


Context-specificity of fear extinction was tested among 65 participants who were fearful of spiders by manipulating the contexts used for exposure treatment and two-week follow-up assessment. Context was defined by both meaningful (presence of a particular therapist) and incidental (room location and furnishings) environmental cues. Distinct phobic stimuli were used to examine interactions of context with stimulus. Physiological, behavioral and verbal indices of fear were measured. Results provided modest support for context-specific return of fear. With one stimulus, participants assessed in a non-treatment context at follow-up exhibited greater returns in heart rate levels. In addition, three of four participants who could not touch the stimulus at follow-up had been tested in a non-treatment context. Future investigations may benefit from greater distinctions between contexts or manipulation of contextual features more directly relevant to fear. Finally, post hoc analyses identified high trait anxiety, slow treatment response, recovery of phobic cognitions and long duration/high intensity phobic encounters post-treatment as significant predictors of increased return of fear. Copyright (C) 1998 Elsevier Science Ltd.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)845-862
Number of pages18
JournalBehaviour Research and Therapy
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 1999

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Clinical Psychology


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