Across the human life span, fear is often acquired indirectly by observation of the emotional expressions of others. The observational fear conditioning protocol was previously developed as a laboratory model for investigating socially acquired threat responses. This protocol serves as a suitable alternative to the widely used Pavlovian fear conditioning, in which threat responses are acquired through direct experiences. In the observational fear conditioning protocol, the participant (observer) watches a demonstrator being presented with a conditioned stimulus (CS) paired with an aversive unconditioned stimulus (US). The expression of threat learning is measured as the conditioned response (CR) expressed by the observer in the absence of the demonstrator. CRs are commonly measured as skin conductance responses, but behavioral and neural measures have also been implemented. The experimental procedure is suitable for divergent populations, can be administered by a graduate student and takes ~40 min. Similar protocols are used in animals, emphasizing its value as a translational tool for studying socioemotional learning.
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- Combo PDF (358 KB)
Supplementary Figure 1 and Supplementary Notes 1 and 2.