Date Thesis Awarded

11-2019

Document Type

Honors Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelors of Science (BS)

Department

Neuroscience

Advisor

Paul Kieffaber

Committee Members

Camilla Buchanan

Randolph Coleman

Abstract

Past research demonstrates that a stressful environment early in life can have profound implications on an individual’s ability to regulate their emotions. One method that researchers use to assess abnormalities in emotion regulation is fear conditioning, where differences in the speed or strength with which one learns about unpleasant stimuli can indicate dysregulation. Currently, the literature is in conflict about whether those who have experienced early life stress (ELS) will show exaggerated or blunted responses to stressful stimuli, but both can cause problems later in life. The present study used a fear conditioning paradigm to further clarify the relationship between ELS and physiological reactivity during a fear conditioning task using a community sample of adolescents. We predicted that adolescents with greater reported levels of ELS would show exaggerated responses to the CS+ during acquisition and extinction. Additionally, we predicted that adolescents with greater levels of ELS would show lower rates of discrimination learning. Thirty-seven participants completed the Risky Families Questionnaire (RFQ) and the teen form of the Alabama Parenting Questionnaire (APQ) to measure cumulative ELS and had their skin conductance response measured during a fear conditioning task to assess their physiological reactivity. Regression analyses revealed that, contrary to our hypothesis, adolescents who reported higher levels of ELS subjectively reported less fear, but showed stronger physiological responses during the acquisition and extinction phases of the fear conditioning task which was in accordance with our hypothesis. Contrary to our hypothesis, analyses showed that individuals with higher indices of ELS showed greater discrimination learning during acquisition. Overall, this study highlights the importance of trans-diagnostic approaches to inform early and effective interventions.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 4.0 License

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