Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

Degree Granting Department


Major Professor

Eric A. Storch, Ph.D.

Co-Major Professor

Vicky Phares, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Kevin Thompson, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Michael Brannick, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Brent Small, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Adam B. Lewin, Ph.D.


adolescents, children, cognitive behavioral model, Fear learning, inhibitory learning, skin conductance


Fear conditioning and extinction are central in the cognitive behavioral model of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), which underlies exposure-based cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). Youth with OCD may have impairments in conditioning and extinction that carries treatment implications. The present study examined these processes using a differential conditioning paradigm. Forty-one youth (19 OCD, 22 community controls) and their parents completed a battery of clinical interviews, rating scales, and a differential conditioning task. Skin conductance response (SCR) served as the primary dependent measure across all three phases of the conditioning procedure (habituation, acquisition, and extinction). During habituation, no meaningful differences were observed between groups. During acquisition, differential fear conditioning was identified across groups evidenced by larger SCRs to the CS+ compared to CS-, with no significant group differences. During extinction, a three-way interaction and follow-up tests revealed youth with OCD failed to exhibit differential fear conditioning during early fear extinction; whereas community controls consistently exhibited differential fear conditioning throughout extinction. Across participants, the number and frequency of OCD symptoms was positively associated with fear acquisition and negatively associated with fear extinction to the conditioned stimulus. OCD symptom severity was negatively associated with differential SCR in early extinction. Youth with OCD exhibit a different pattern of fear extinction relative to community controls that may be accounted for by impaired inhibitory learning in early fear extinction. Findings suggest the potential benefit of augmentative retraining interventions prior to CBT. Therapeutic approaches to utilize inhibitory-learning principles and/or engage developmentally appropriate brain regions during exposures may serve to maximize CBT outcomes.

Included in

Psychology Commons