Joseph F. McGuire, Scott P. Orr, Monica S. Wu, Adam B. Lewin, Brent J. Small, Vicky Phares, Tanya K. Murphy, Sabine Wilhelm, Daniel S. Pine, Daniel Geller, Eric A. Storch

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


Background Fear acquisition and extinction are central constructs in the cognitive-behavioral model of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), which underlies exposure-based cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). Youth with OCD may have impairments in fear acquisition and extinction that carry treatment implications. We examined these processes using a differential conditioning procedure. Methods Forty-one youth (19 OCD, 22 community comparisons) completed a battery of clinical interviews, rating scales, and a differential conditioning task that included habituation, acquisition, and extinction phases. Skin conductance response (SCR) served as the primary dependent measure. Results During habituation, no difference between groups was observed. During acquisition, differential fear conditioning was observed across participants as evidenced by larger SCRs to the CS+ compared to CS-; there were no between-group differences. Across participants, the number and frequency of OCD symptoms and anxiety severity was associated with greater reactivity to stimuli during acquisition. During extinction, a three-way interaction and follow-up tests revealed that youth with OCD showed a different pattern of SCR extinction compared to the community comparison group. Conclusions Youth with OCD exhibit a different pattern of fear extinction relative to community comparisons. This may be attributed to impaired inhibitory learning and contingency awareness in extinction. Findings suggest the potential benefit of utilizing inhibitory-learning principles in CBT for youth with OCD, and/or augmentative retraining interventions prior to CBT to reduce threat bias and improve contingency detection.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)229-237
Number of pages9
JournalDepression and anxiety
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 1 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • children
  • extinction
  • fear conditioning
  • inhibitory learning
  • obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • skin conductance

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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