Extinction learning in childhood anxiety disorders, obsessive compulsive disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: implications for treatment

Joseph McGuire, Scott P. Orr, Joey K.Y. Essoe, James T. McCracken, Eric A. Storch, John Piacentini

Research output: Contribution to journalReview article


Introduction: Threat conditioning and extinction play an important role in anxiety disorders, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Although these conditions commonly affect children, threat conditioning and extinction have been primarily studied in adults. However, differences in phenomenology and neural architecture prohibit the generalization of adult findings to youth. Areas covered: A comprehensive literature search using PubMed and PsycInfo was conducted to identify studies that have used differential conditioning tasks to examine threat acquisition and extinction in youth. The information obtained from this review helps to clarify the influence of these processes on the etiology and treatment of youth with OCD, PTSD and other anxiety disorders. Thirty studies of threat conditioning and extinction were identified Expert commentary: Youth with anxiety disorders, OCD, and PTSD have largely comparable threat acquisition relative to unaffected controls, with some distinctions noted for youth with PTSD or youth who have suffered maltreatment. However, impaired extinction was consistently observed across youth with these disorders and appears to be consistent with deficiencies in inhibitory learning. Incorporating strategies to improve inhibitory learning may improve extinction learning within extinction-based treatments like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). Strategies to improve inhibitory learning in CBT are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1155-1174
Number of pages20
JournalExpert Review of Neurotherapeutics
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 2 2016
Externally publishedYes



  • adolescence
  • anxiety disorders
  • Conditioning
  • exposure therapy
  • extinction
  • fear
  • inhibitory learning
  • obsessive compulsive disorder
  • post-traumatic stress disorder
  • threat

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Clinical Neurology
  • Pharmacology (medical)

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