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.
Sino-German Mobility Programme: "Addiction memory modification by virtual reality - from basic research to the clinic"
Modulation of cue reactivity by BEGIN and END stimuli of the smoking ritual
Behavioral and psychophysiological markers of extinction learning in virtual reality
- SFB TRR58, Projekt B01 (Prof. Pauli), Projekt B08 (Dr. Andreatta), Projekt Z02 (Prof. Pauli)
- DFG - Projektnummer 378414384 (Dr. Wiemer)
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
- Boecker, L., & Pauli, P. (2019) Affective startle modulation and psychopathology: Implications for appetitive and defensive brain systems. Neurosci Biobehav Rev 103: 230-266.
- 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