Transfer of conditioned fear and avoidance: Concurrent measurement of arousal and operant responding

Miguel Rodríguez-Valverde, Carmen Luciano, Dermot Barnes-Holmes, Mónica Hernández-López

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A reversal design was employed for the analysis of transfer of fear and avoidance through equivalence classes. Two 5-member equivalence classes (A1-B1-C1-D1-E1 and A2-B2-C2-D2-E2) were established. Then B1 and C1 were paired with shock (CS+) and served as SDs in avoidance training (B2 and C2 were trained as CS-/Ss for avoidance). Further avoidance training followed with D1 and E1 (as SDs) and D2 and E2 (as Ss), with the first presentation of each of these stimuli serving as the first transfer test. Afterwards, aversive conditioning contingencies were reversed: B2 and D2 were paired with shock and trained as SDs for avoidance, B1 and D1 were presented without shock (CS-/Ss). Transfer was tested again with C1, E1, C2 and E2. This reversal was implemented to allow for the within-subject replication of transfer effects upon changes in the function of only a subset of each class's elements. Avoidance (key presses) and conditioned fear (skin conductance and heart rate) were simultaneously measured. Results show a clear transfer effect for avoidance, with between- and within-subject replications. For physiological measures, transfer effects in the first test could only be imputed on the basis of group-based inferential statistical analysis. Evidence for between-subject replication was weaker, with only a limited proportion of participants meeting the individual criterion for transfer.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)204-223
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior
Issue number1
Early online date3 Dec 2020
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 22 Jan 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This study was funded by a research grant from the Spanish Ministry of Education and Science (Beca FPU‐MEC, ref. AP2002‐0868) to Miguel Rodríguez‐Valverde.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 Society for the Experimental Analysis of Behavior

Copyright 2021 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


  • avoidance
  • fear conditioning
  • heart rate
  • skin conductance
  • stimulus equivalence
  • transfer of functions
  • Behavioral Neuroscience
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Avoidance Learning
  • Humans
  • Fear
  • Arousal
  • Conditioning, Classical


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