Attentional control and fear extinction in subclinical fear: An exploratory study

Eduard Forcadell, David Torrents-Rodas, Devi Treen, Miquel A. Fullana, Miquel Tortella-Feliu

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2 Citations (Scopus)


© 2017 Forcadell, Torrents-Rodas, Treen, Fullana and Tortella-Feliu. Attentional control (AC) and fear extinction learning are known to be involved in pathological anxiety. In this study we explored whether individual differences in non-emotional AC were associated with individual differences in the magnitude and gradient of fear extinction (learning and recall). In 50 individuals with fear of spiders, we collected measures of non-emotional AC by means of self-report and by assessing the functioning of the major attention networks (executive control, orienting, and alerting). The participants then underwent a paradigm assessing fear extinction learning and extinction recall. The two components of the orienting network functioning (costs and benefits) were significantly associated with fear extinction gradient over and above the effects of trait anxiety. Specifically, participants with enhanced orienting costs (i.e., difficulties in disengaging attention from cues not relevant for the task) showed faster extinction learning, while those with enhanced orienting benefits (i.e., attention facilitated by valid cues) exhibited faster extinction recall as measured by fear-potentiated startle and Unconditioned Stimulus expectancies, respectively. Our findings suggest that, in non-emotional conditions, the orienting component of attention may be predictive of fear extinction. They also show that the use of fear extinction gradients and the exploration of individual differences in non-emotional AC (using performance-based measures of attentional network functioning) can provide a better understanding of individual differences in fear learning. Our findings also may help to understand differences in exposure therapy outcomes.
Original languageEnglish
Article number1654
JournalFrontiers in Psychology
Issue numberSEP
Publication statusPublished - 26 Sep 2017


  • Anxiety disorders
  • Attentional control
  • Attentional network functioning
  • Extinction learning
  • Extinction recall
  • Fear extinction


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