Even after successful exposure, relapse is not uncommon. Based on the retrieval model of fear extinction (e.g., Vervliet, Craske, & Hermans, 2013), return of fear can occur after exposure due to an elapse of time (spontaneous recovery) or change in context (contextual renewal). The use of external salient stimuli presented throughout extinction (i.e., retrieval cues [RCs]) has been suggested as a potential solution to this problem (Bouton, 2002). The current study examined whether RCs attenuated return of fear in individuals with public speaking anxiety. Sixty-five participants completed a brief exposure while presented with two RC stimuli aimed at a variety of senses (visual, tactile, olfactory, and auditory). Later, half the participants were tested for return of fear in a context different from the exposure context, and the other half in the same context. Half of each context group were presented with the same cues as in exposure, while the other half were not. Return of fear due to an elapse of time, change in context, and effects of RCs were evaluated on subjective, behavioral, and physiological measures of anxiety. Although contextual renewal was not observed, results supported effects of RCs in reducing spontaneous recovery on behavioral and physiological measures of anxiety. There was also evidence that participants who were reminded of feeling anxious during exposure by the RCs benefited more from using them at follow-up, whereas those who perceived the cues as comforting (safety signals) benefited less. Clinical implications of the findings are discussed.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Clinical Psychology