ISSN 0439-755X
CN 11-1911/B

Acta Psychologica Sinica ›› 2021, Vol. 53 ›› Issue (6): 587-602.doi: 10.3724/SP.J.1041.2021.00587

• Reports of Empirical Studies • Previous Articles     Next Articles

Effects of prediction error and acute stress on retrieval-extinction of fear memories of different strengths

LI Junjiao1, CHEN Wei2,3,4, HU Yanjian5, CAOYANG Jingwen6, ZHENG Xifu2,3,4()   

  1. 1College of Teacher Education, Guangdong University of Education, Guangzhou 510303, China
    2School of Psychology, South China Normal University, Guangzhou 510631, China
    3Center for Studies of Psychological Application, South China Normal University, Guangzhou 510631, China
    4Guangdong Key Laboratory of Mental Health and Cognitive Science, Guangzhou 510631, China
    5Dongguan Middle School, Dongguan 523120, China
    6Student Mental Health Education Center, Xi’an International Studies University, Xi’an 710128, China;
  • Received:2020-02-27 Published:2021-06-25 Online:2021-04-29
  • Contact: ZHENG Xifu
  • Supported by:
    This work was supported by National Natural Science Foundation of China(32000752);This work was supported by National Natural Science Foundation of China(31771218);This work was supported by National Natural Science Foundation of China(31970996);Humanities and Social Sciences Research Project of Ministry of Education(20YJC190009);Philosophy and Social Sciences Planning Project of Guangdong Province(GD19YXL01);happy Guangzhou psychological service and counseling base, Key laboratory of philosophy and social sciences in Guangdong universities(2020WSYS002)


Under the framework of Reconsolidation Interference of conditioned fear memory, Prediction Error (PE) has been demonstrated as a necessary condition of memory destabilization. However, the role of PE in destabilizing fear memories of different strengths is unclear. Memory strength was proved to be an important boundary condition of memory reconsolidation; however, explorations of solutions to overcome the boundary are rare. Among factors that are possible to help to overcome the boundary condition, the effects of stress hormones are worth exploring. In this study, we investigated the effects of prediction error on different strengths of fear memory in human participants and the effects of post-reactivation acute stress on the extinction process. The results showed that for weak conditioned fear memories, the spontaneous recovery of fear was significantly inhibited when single PE was involved in the retrieval phase; while for stronger fear memories, reactivation containing a single PE could not destabilize fear memories, and the extinguished memories returned in the memory test on the third day. Furthermore, when the post-reactivation acute stress task was adopted in the enhanced memory condition, the return of fear further increased, compared with the no stress manipulation conditions.

Key words: conditioned fear, retrieval-extinction, prediction error, acute stress, memory strength