Fear of losing money? Aversive conditioning with secondary reinforcers.

M. R. Delgado, C. D. Labouliere, E. A. Phelps

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Money is a secondary reinforcer that acquires its value through social communication and interaction. In everyday human behavior and laboratory studies, money has been shown to influence appetitive or reward learning. It is unclear, however, if money has a similar impact on aversive learning. The goal of this study was to investigate the efficacy of money in aversive learning, comparing it with primary reinforcers that are traditionally used in fear conditioning paradigms. A series of experiments were conducted in which participants initially played a gambling game that led to a monetary gain. They were then presented with an aversive conditioning paradigm, with either shock (primary reinforcer) or loss of money (secondary reinforcer) as the unconditioned stimulus. Skin conductance responses and subjective ratings indicated that potential monetary loss modulated the conditioned response. Depending on the presentation context, the secondary reinforcer was as effective as the primary reinforcer during aversive conditioning. These results suggest that stimuli that acquire reinforcing properties through social communication and interaction, such as money, can effectively influence aversive learning.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)250-259
Number of pages10
JournalSocial cognitive and affective neuroscience
Issue number3
StatePublished - Dec 2006

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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