The next day, the sight of the square drew an immediate fear response, as measured by sensors on the skin. Participants were then given “extinction” training, to override the painful memories, by repeatedly showing them the colored square without the accompanying shock.
But first they were divided into three conditions, with different timings and methods. In the first group, given the extinction training just 10 minutes after being reminded of the painful memory, subjects no longer reacted emotionally to the sight of the colored square — their fear was extinguished, with no trace of it a full year later.
However, participants in the second group, who received extinction training six hours after being reminded of the shocks, and those in the third group, who were not first shown the square to remind them of the fearful memory, still showed a physiological dread at the sight of the square.
This is a very important finding, pinpointing this period of brain flexibility just after a fear response, and no doubt a lot of targeted techniques being used now for anxiety, phobias and posttraumatic stress will no doubt be experimenting with first reactivating the fear before moving into introducing the intervention. Kudos to this team for these exciting findings.