Date of Award

8-2015

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Science

Department

Psychology

Program

Psychology - General

First Advisor/Chairperson

Joshua Carlson

Second Advisor

Harry Whitaker

Third Advisor

Zac Cogley

Fourth Advisor

Susan Kapla

Abstract

Observing a fearful facial expression elicits an automatic orienting of attention. Past research focusing on fear conditioning has used an unconditioned stimulus that the participant directly experiences (e.g. shock). Other research has focused on observational fear learning where the participant watches another individual receive the stimulus. The aim of this study was to condition a colored square with a fearful face in the dot-probe task. Orienting toward and disengagement from fearful faces was also examined using the dot-probe task. In addition, hemodynamic responses in the prefrontal cortex (PFC) were measured using near-infrared spectroscopy (NIRS). It was hypothesized that after pairing a neutral stimulus (a colored square) with a fearful face, attentional bias toward the fearful face would transfer to the neutral stimulus. It was further hypothesized that the medial PFC (mPFC) would be more active during learning and extinction and that the mPFC would be involved with early and late phases of attention processing. The results suggest that attentional bias toward fearful faces did not transfer to a colored square. However, this study did find an orientating of attention toward fearful faces and a delayed disengagement of attention from fearful faces. Analysis of the NIRS data was purely exploratory and indicated that the mPFC was involved in orienting attention toward the fearful face while the lateral PFC was involved in delayed disengagement of attention.

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