Fear learning and regulation is a prominent model for describing the pathogenesis of anxiety disorders and stress-related psychopathology. Fear expression can be modulated using a number of regulatory strategies, including extinction, cognitive emotion regulation, avoidance strategies and reconsolidation. In this review, we examine research investigating the effects of acute stress and stress hormones on these regulatory techniques. We focus on what is known about the impact of stress on the ability to flexibly regulate fear responses that are acquired through Pavlovian fear conditioning. Our primary aim is to explore the impact of stress on fear regulation in humans. Given this, we focus on techniques where stress has been linked to alterations of fear regulation in humans (extinction and emotion regulation), and briefly discuss other techniques (avoidance and reconsolidation) where the impact of stress or stress hormones have been mainly explored in animal models. These investigations reveal that acute stress may impair the persistent inhibition of fear, presumably by altering prefrontal cortex function. Characterizing the effects of stress on fear regulation is critical for understanding the boundaries within which existing regulation strategies are viable in everyday life and can better inform treatment options for those who suffer from anxiety and stress-related psychopathology.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Molecular Biology
- Endocrine and Autonomic Systems
- Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience