The Role of Stimulus Specificity and Attention in the Generalization of Extinction

Tom J. Barry*, James W. Griffith, Bram Vervliet, Dirk Hermans

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


Exposure therapy for anxiety is effective but fear can still return afterward. This may be because the stimuli that people are exposed to are dissimilar from the stimuli to which fear was originally acquired. After pairing an animal-like image (A) with a shock stimulus (US), a perceptually similar stimulus (B) was presented without the US in extinction. Participants were then shown A (ABA), a second generalization stimulus (ABC) or B (ABB). Groups ABA and ABC evidenced a return of US expectancy relative to participants who were shown B (ABB). Participants in group ABC who self-reported high levels of attentional control evidenced greater return of expectancy relative to participants low in attentional control. Participants with a high level of attentional control also showed steeper extinction gradients. Attentional control may influence perceptions of similarity and the learning that follows. Making note of such differences may be valuable in exposure treatment for anxiety.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)143-152
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Experimental Psychopathology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Apr 1 2016


  • Anxiety
  • Attention
  • Exposure
  • Extinction
  • Generalization

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


Dive into the research topics of 'The Role of Stimulus Specificity and Attention in the Generalization of Extinction'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this