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Editorial| Volume 60, ISSUE 4, P317-318, August 15, 2006

Extinction: New Excitement for an Old Phenomenon

      Extinction of Pavlovian conditioning is deceptively simple: repeated presentation of the conditioned stimulus in the absence of the unconditioned stimulus causes conditioned responding to diminish. In his influential 1927 book that formalized the study of conditioning,
      • Pavlov I.
      observed that extinction did not erase the memory of conditioning but was a form of inhibitory learning. In the decades that followed, psychologists extended our knowledge of extinction (
      • Bouton M.E.
      Context, time, and memory retrieval in the interference paradigms of Pavlovian learning.
      ; reviewed in
      • Delamater A.R.
      Experimental extinction in Pavlovian conditioning Behavioural and neuroscience perspectives.
      ,
      • Konorski J.
      ,
      • Rescorla R.A.
      Spontaneous recovery.
      ,
      • Rescorla R.A.
      • Heth C.D.
      Reinstatement of fear to an extinguished conditioned stimulus.
      ) but little was learned about how the brain mediates extinction. In the past 6 years, however, there has been explosive growth in our understanding of the neural mechanisms of extinction, particularly for extinction of conditioned fear. Understanding fear extinction could revolutionize treatment of anxiety disorders such as phobias and posttraumatic stress, which employ extinction-based cognitive and exposure therapies.
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