A developmental analysis of threat/safety learning and extinction recall during middle childhood

Kalina J. Michalska, Tomer Shechner, Melanie Hong, Jennifer C. Britton, Ellen Leibenluft, Daniel S. Pine, Nathan A. Fox

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The current study examined developmental changes in fear learning and generalization in 54 healthy 5-10-year old children using a novel fear conditioning paradigm. In this task, the conditioned stimuli (CS+/CS-) were two blue and yellow colored cartoon bells, and the unconditioned stimulus was an unpleasant loud alarm sound presented with a red cartoon bell. Physiological and subjective data were acquired. Three weeks after conditioning, 48 of these participants viewed the CS-, CS+, and morphed images resembling the CS+. Participants made threat-safety discriminations while appraising threat and remembering the CS+. Although no age-related differences in fear learning emerged, patterns of generalization were qualified by child age. Older children demonstrated better discrimination between the CS+ and CS morphs than younger age groups and also reported more fear to stimuli resembling the CS+ than younger children. Clinical implications and future directions are discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)95-105
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Experimental Child Psychology
StatePublished - 1 Jun 2016

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2016 .


  • Aversive conditioning
  • Development
  • Extinction recall
  • Fear generalization
  • Fear learning
  • Skin conductance

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology


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