Exploring Differences in Fear Conditioning in Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
A characteristic commonly found in post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is an inability to inhibit fear even when no genuine threat is present. Those who develop PTSD after a traumatic experience generally exhibit stronger conditioned fear of trauma reminders (i.e. a specific smell or sound). In order to study the dysfunction in fear conditioning that leads some to develop the disorder after a trauma, a differential fear conditioning task was implemented. In this study, a light of a particular color (the danger cue) was paired with a low intensity electric pulse, meanwhile a different colored light (the safety cue) was not paired with an unpleasant stimulus, and skin conductance was used as a measure of physiological fear response. A group of 12 Caucasian male combat exposed veterans (6 with PTSD, 6 without PTSD) revealed no major statistically significant differences in physiological fear response. Skin conductance responses of two Caucasian women who also participated in the fear conditioning task (1 with PTSD, 1 without PTSD) were also compared in an attempt to investigate whether previously discovered gender differences in skin conductance response could be observed. In analyzing all the participants’ data (both the men’s and women’s), small sample sizes seriously limited the conclusions that could be drawn.