ISSN 0439-755X
CN 11-1911/B

Acta Psychologica Sinica ›› 2017, Vol. 49 ›› Issue (3): 317-328.doi: 10.3724/SP.J.1041.2017.00317

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The inhibitive effect of positive emotions on fear generalization

FENG Biao1,2,3; XU Liang4,1; ZHANG Weixing1,2,3; CHEN Ting1,2,3; WANG Wenqing1,2,3; ZHENG Xifu1,2,3   

  1. (1 School of Psychology, South China Normal University, Guangzhou 510630, China)(2 Center for Studies of Psychological Application, Guangzhou 510630, China)(3 Guangdong Key Laboratory of mental health and cognitive science, Guangzhou 510630, China)(4 Center for Mental Health Education, Guangdong Communication Polytechnic, Guangzhou 510650, China)
  • Received:2016-04-05 Published:2017-03-25 Online:2017-03-25
  • Contact: ZHENG Xifu, E-mail:


Overgeneralization is one of core symptoms in anxiety disorders. Previous studies of fear generalization just focused on the factors that facilitate generalization. For example, plenty of studies from this field showed that negative emotions can promote the generalization of fear. However, few studies explored how to prevent generalization, and the role of positive emotions in preventing generalization of fear is unknown. In current study, we fill this gap by behaviorally assessing the role of positive emotions in fear-generalization. Fifty healthy participants underwent fear conditioning and generalization procedure. Skin-conductance response (SCR) and on-line expectancy were served as the measurement of fear responses. After fear acquisition stage, all participants were randomly divided into experimental group or control group that accepted "Best Possible Self" emotional manipulation or nothing. The level of positive emotions were measured by PANAS before and after the manipulation stage. Furthermore, participants were instructed to rate the level of subjective fear and emotion valence of conditioned stimuli (CS) at the end of each stage. The results showed that experimental group displayed less fear generalization than control group, as reflected by SCR, on-line expectancy and self-report. Noteworthily, we observed the separation of implicit measure (skin conductance response) and explicit measure (on-line expectancy and self-report) in this study. This separation supports the dual process theory, suggesting that positive emotion manipulation inhibit fear generalization through different pathways (excitatory pathway and inhibitory pathway) and different mechanisms. Our findings demonstrate that positive emotion manipulation can prevent fear generalization effectively. Given the basis of fear conditioning and generalization, our results may have clinical implications for future treatments and interventions in anxiety disorder.

Key words: fear generalization, positive emotions, fear excitement, safety study, inhibitory effect