RUB » Forschung » Forschungsverbünde » Forschergruppen

DFG Research Unit 1581

Project Profile P9


Clinical Implications of Extinction Learning and Renewal in Specific Phobia


Despite the considerable progress made in understanding the behavioral and neurobiological bases of fear conditioning, our knowledge of the mechanisms governing context-dependent extinction in anxiety disorders is surprisingly limited. One major goal of this project is to understand how context effects on fear extinction are regulated in anxiety disorders. To this end we will develop and establish well-controlled paradigms which are suitable to examine a.) context-dependent extinction learning and fear renewal for de novo stimuli and b.) exposure therapy-induced symptom improvement and relapse in patients with specific phobia. Based on these data, we will determine whether differences in the extinction learning rate predict differential short- and long-term treatment benefit during exposure therapy. Finally, we aim to investigate the genetic basis mediating interindividual differences in fear extinction and exposure-therapy induced symptom relief. We expect that our findings will contribute to a better understanding of mechanisms underlying exposure based treatments and lead to identification of novel routes to minimize the risk for relapse after exposure therapy.


This project aims to determine whether differences in contextually dependent fear extinction and fear renewal could serve as predictors for anxiety reduction during virtual exposure treatment and return of fear in a novel context at follow-up in patients with specific phobia.


Changes in extinction learning, exposure therapy-induced anxiety reduction and fear renewal will be determined on the

  • subjective,
  • behavioral and
  • psychophysiological level

Subjects: Patients who meet the DSM-IV-TR diagnostic criteria for principal diagnoses of specific phobia and healthy controls.

Project duration:
18 months


Cooperation within the Research Unit

  • Project P4: A close cooperation with (P4) is essential in order to provide the theoretical background and to plan further clinical experiments assessing the role of attentional manipulation on relapse phenomena.
  • Project P1, P2, P5: With regard to the behavioral genetic studies, we will cooperate closely with research groups of P1, P2, P5, and P6 concerning the involvement of various neurotransmitter and neuroendocrine systems in the processes of fear acquisition, extinction and renewal, since these systems are directly influenced by the genes analyzed in our planned studies.
  • Project P7: Given the close relationship between the mechanisms in somatization and IBS examined by P7, it will be valuable to understand whether the processes of fear acquisition, extinction, and renewal overlap in IBS and specific phobia.


Contact: In case of any questions regarding P9 please contact Dr. Armin Zlomuzica:


  • SFB 1280 Extinction Learning - accepted! Read more: RUB news portal / DFG press release
  • SFB Extinction Learning evaluated successfully! Read more
  • Julian Packheiser receives treasure chest-support! Read more
  • Young Scientists enjoyed a Lab Day with our colleagues at the University of Marburg. Read more
  • Adriane Icenhour received the promotional price of the Faculty of Medicine! Read more
  • A day with Michelle Craske. Read more
  • Kid came to office: With a mobile nursery we support parents who need to take their children with them to the office in short term. Read more

 ♥ of the press

  • Cooperation with
    The online magazine presents in cooperation with FOR 1581 and SFB 636 extinction learning as one of the most exciting current research topics between mind and brain. Read more
  • E-Book on Extinction Learning
    To provide a most recent update on research on extinction learning, Denise Manahan-Vaughan, Onur Güntürkün and Oliver Wolf from the Ruhr-University came together to create an open-access Frontier Research Topic e-book.
    Don't forget...
    In everyday life we are continually confronted with situations where previously learned information is no longer valid – a phenomenon that psychologists refer to as “extinction learning”... forschung 04/2014
    German research 3/2015