Deutsch Intern
    Department of Psychology I - Biological Psychology, Clinical Psychology
    and Psychotherapy

    Associative Learning (M.Sc. Yannik Stegmann)

    Research Focus:

    Associative learning is a fundamental function of the brain to identify and form associations between two stimuli. By associative learning, organisms learn about the contingency between a neutral stimulus and a stimulus with positive (e.g., food, reproduction) or negative consequences (e.g., threat, pain). Accordingly, the former neutral stimulus gains predictive value and the capacity to elicit emotional-motivational responses (pleasure, craving, fear, anxiety), which can result in behavioral avoidance or approach tendencies. A disruption of these functions has been discussed as a major factor for the development and maintenance of many mental disorders, in particular anxiety disorders, like specific phobias, panic disorder and generalized anxiety disorder, as well as posttraumatic stress disorder, mood disorders, substance use disorders and eating disorders.

    In our research, we examine the underlying processes and mechanisms of associative learning. To this end, we use i.a. cue and context conditioning paradigms with aversive and appetitive stimuli and various biopsychological methods to quantify subjective, neural, physiological and behavioral responses. Our main goal is to unravel the mechanisms underlying the acquisition, maintenance, extinction and generalization of conditioned responses (e.g. fear and anxiety). A second aim of our research is to investigate the impact of moderating variables on associative learning, like individual differences and personality-traits, e.g. trait-anxiety or impulsivity.


    Technical equipment and dependent variables:

    To achieve a multimodal analysis of the processes involved in associative learning, we combine different measures of conditioned responding. Besides subjective reports of emotional experience, we register physiological components of the conditioned responses, like galvanic skin responses and cardiovascular activity, the modulation of the startle-reflex, facial muscular activity and pupillary responses. Underlying responses of the brain are measures via electroencephalography (EEG) and functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI). Moreover, we measure behavioral tendencies, via reaction times, motion- and eye-tracking.


    Running projects:

    Completed projects:

    Affiliated third party funding:




    • Andreatta, M., Genheimer, H., Wieser, J., M., Pauli, P. (2020). Context-dependent generalization of conditioned responses to threat and safety signals. International Journal of Psychophysiology.
    • Stegmann, Y., Ahrens, L., Pauli, P., Keil, A., & Wieser, M. J. (2020). Social aversive generalization learning sharpens the tuning of visuocortical neurons to facial identity cues. eLife, 9, e55204. http://https://doi:10.7554/eLife.55204
    • Genheimer, H., Andreatta, M., Pauli, P. (2020). Conjunctive and elemental representations of a context in humans. J Cogn Neurosci.
    • Klinke, C. M., Fiedler, D., Lange, M. D., & Andreatta, M. (2020). Evidence for impaired extinction learning in humans after distal stress exposure. Neurobiology of Learning and Memory, 167, 107127. doi.org/10.1016/j.nlm.2019.107127
    • Andreatta, M., Neueder, D., Herzog, K., Genheimer, H., Schiele, A., M., Deckert, J., Domschke, K., Reif, A., Wieser, J., M., Pauli, P. (2020). Generalization of conditioned contextual anxiety and the modulatory effects of anxiety sensitivity. Neurotherapeutics
    • Stegmann, Y., Schiele, M. A., Schümann, D., Lonsdorf, T. B., Zwanzger, P., Romanos, M., Reif, A., Domschke, K., Deckert, J., Gamer, M., & Pauli, P. (2020). Individual differences in human fear generalization – pattern identification and implications for anxiety disorders. Transl Psychiatry 9: 307.
    • Wieser, M. J., & Keil, A. (2020). Attentional threat biases and their role in anxiety: A neurophysiological perspective. https://doi.org/10.31234/osf.io/3zerk
    • Liu, W., Chen, X. J., Wen, Y. T., Winkler, M. H., Pauli, P., He, Y. L., Wang, L., Chen, H. X., & Li, Y. H. (2020). Memory Retrieval-Extinction Combined With Virtual Reality Reducing Drug Craving for Methamphetamine: Study Protocol for a Randomized Controlled Trial. Frontiers in Psychiatry, 11(322), 322. doi: 10.3389/fpsyt.2020.00322

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    • Andreatta, M., Neueder, D., Genheimer, H., Schiele, M.A., Schartner, C., Deckert, J., Domschke, K., Reif, A., Wieser, M. J., Pauli, P. (2019). Human BDNF rs6265 polymorphism as a mediator for the generalization of contextual anxiety. J Neurosci Res 97: 300-312.
    • Neueder, D., Andreatta, M., Pauli, P. (2019). Contextual fear conditioning and fear generalization in panic disorder. Front Behav Neurosci 13.
    • Stegmann, Y., Reicherts, P., Andreatta, M., Pauli, P., Wieser, M.J. (2019). The effect of trait anxiety on attentional mechanisms in combined context and cue conditioning and extinction learning. Sci Rep 9: 8855.
    • Boecker, L., & Pauli, P. (2019) Affective startle modulation and psychopathology: Implications for appetitive and defensive brain systems. Neurosci Biobehav Rev 103: 230-266.
    • Lange, B., & Pauli, P. (2019). Social anxiety changes the way we move – a social approach-avoidance task in a virtual reality CAVE system. PLoS One 14: e0226805.
    • Stegmann, Y., Ahrens, L.M., Pauli, P., Keil, A., & Wieser, M. J. (2019). Social aversive generalization learning sharpens the tuning of visuocortical neurons to facial identity cues. https://doi.org/10.31234/osf.io/p4mvd

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    • Kastner-Dorn, A. K., Andreatta, M., Pauli, P., Wieser, M.J. (2018). Hyper-vigilance during anxiety and selective attention during fear: An ssVEP-study disentangling attention mechanisms during predictable and unpredictable threat. Cortex 106: 120-131.
    • Chen, X. J., Wang, D. M., Zhou, L. D., Winkler, M., Pauli, P., Sui, N. & Li, Y. H. (2018). Mindfulness-based relapse prevention combined with virtual reality cue exposure for methamphetamine use disorder: Study protocol for a randomized controlled trial. Contemporary Clinical Trials, 70, 99-105.

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    • Genheimer, H., Andreatta, M., Asan, E., Pauli, P. (2017). Reinstatement of contextual conditioned anxiety in virtual reality and the effects of transcutaneous vagus nerve stimulation in humans. Sci Rep 7: 17886

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