How do social fears in adolescence develop? Fear conditioning shapes attention orienting to social threat cues.
Haddad AD., Lissek S., Pine DS., Lau JY.
Social fears emerging in adolescence can have negative effects on emotional well-being. Yet the mechanisms by which these risks occur are unknown. One possibility is that associative learning results in fears to previously neutral social stimuli. Such conditioned responses may alter subsequent processing of social stimuli. We used a novel conditioning task to examine how associative processes influence social fear and attention orienting in adolescents. Neutral photographs were paired with socially rewarding or aversive stimuli during conditioning; a dot-probe task then assessed biases in attention orienting. The social conditioning task modified subjective ratings of the neutral stimuli. Moreover, for the neutral stimulus that was paired with the aversive stimulus, the strength of conditioning showed a relationship with subsequent attentional vigilance. The findings elucidate mechanisms by which negative peer experiences during adolescence may affect emotional processing.