Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behaviour
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Thesis defense Maxime Houtekamer (Donders series 573)

14 October 2022

Promotors: prof. dr. E. Hermans, prof. dr. J. Homberg
Co-promotors: dr. M. Henckens, dr. L. Wirz

Remember to forget what you fear

Traumatic memories are often stronger than everyday memories and more resistant to change. In treatments for mental disorders such as post-traumatic stress disorder, these original fearful memories often remain intact. As a result, we see that the anxiety or stress complaints regularly return after treatment. This dissertation explores two strategies for learning safety or unlearning fear. First, we investigated whether fearful memories become more sensitive to interventions when they are retrieved before the intervention by means of a reminder. However, we found no evidence that providing a reminder prior to safety learning can enhance its effectiveness. The second strategy focused on reinforcing safety recall using reward, and here we found that counterconditioning can prevent the return of fear responses by turning on reward circuitry. Together, these studies advance our understanding of potential mechanisms for more sustained reduction of fear responses.