Verbal threat learning does not spare loved ones
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Morato, C., Guerra, P. & Bublatzky, F. Verbal threat learning does not spare loved ones. Sci Rep 11, 5469 (2021). [https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-021-84921-3]
SponsorshipGerman Research Foundation (DFG) BU 3255/1-1 BU 3255/1-2
Significant others provide individuals with a sense of safety and security. However, the mechanisms that underlie attachment-induced safety are hardly understood. Recent research has shown beneficial effects when viewing pictures of the romantic partner, leading to reduced pain experience and defensive responding. Building upon this, we examined the inhibitory capacity of loved face pictures on fear learning in an instructed threat paradigm. Pictures of loved familiar or unknown individuals served as signals for either threat of electric shocks or safety, while a broad set of psychophysiological measures was recorded. We assumed that a long-term learning history of beneficial relations interferes with social threat learning. Nevertheless, results yielded a typical pattern of physiological defense activation towards threat cues, regardless of whether threat was signaled by an unknown or a loved face. These findings call into question the notion that pictures of loved individuals are shielded against becoming threat cues, with implications for attachment and trauma research.