Individual Differences in Autonomic Response: Conditioned Association or Conditioned Fear?

Academic Article


  • Cluster analysis was used to define three groups of subjects whose conditioned heart rate response emphasized either acceleration, deceleration, or moderate deceleration. A subject pool (N = 148) was generated from four separate studies of differential classical conditioning in which colored slides served as conditioned stimuli (CSs) and the unconditioned stimulus (UCS) was aversive auditory noise. Both the statistically generated Accelerator and Decelerator groups responded with a significant late interval deceleration to CS+. However, only Accelerators also displayed a significant mid‐interval heart rate increase to CS+. Conditioned electrodermal responses were significantly more resistant to extinction for Accelerators than for the other two cluster groups. Accelerators also differed from Decelerators in that their affective judgments of the slide stimuli became less positively valent and less dominant from pre‐ to post‐conditioning, effects not found for Decelerators. Moderate Decelerators produced mixed results across the several psychophysiological and verbal measures of conditioning, resembling Accelerators in their verbal report change, and Decelerators in their rapid electrodermal extinction. It is suggested that cluster assignment may reflect subjects' pre‐conditioning learning set. All successfully conditioned subjects appear to learn a relationship between stimuli such that the appearance of the CS+ prompts an anticipatory orienting response (late interval heart rate deceleration). Accelerators differ from the other two groups in that they also condition a defensive response which is associated with a change in emotional judgments of the stimuli and may represent covert preparation for avoidance. The relationships between defensive responding, avoidance, and the concept of fear are considered, and the problem of desynchrony in emotional change (i.e., the Moderate Decelerators) is addressed. Finally, parallels are drawn between results from classical conditioning and clinical studies of fear and phobia, and further suggestions are made for utilizing the conditioning paradigm in the study of emotion. Copyright © 1985, Wiley Blackwell. All rights reserved
  • Authors

    Published In

  • Psychophysiology  Journal
  • Digital Object Identifier (doi)

    Author List

  • Hodes RL; Cook EW; Lang PJ
  • Start Page

  • 545
  • End Page

  • 560
  • Volume

  • 22
  • Issue

  • 5