Social learning of fear

  title={Social learning of fear},
  author={Andreas Olsson and Elizabeth A. Phelps},
  journal={Nature Neuroscience},
Research across species highlights the critical role of the amygdala in fear conditioning. However, fear conditioning, involving direct aversive experience, is only one means by which fears can be acquired. Exploiting aversive experiences of other individuals through social fear learning is less risky. Behavioral research provides important insights into the workings of social fear learning, and the neural mechanisms are beginning to be understood. We review research suggesting that an amygdala… 

Social Fear Learning: from Animal Models to Human Function

Dominance status predicts social fear transmission in laboratory rats

It is shown that social dominance hierarchy, and the interactive social behaviors of caged rats, is predictive of social fear transmission, with subordinate rats displaying increased fear responses after interacting with a fear-conditioned dominant rat during fear retrieval.

Intergenerational transmission of emotional trauma through amygdala-dependent mother-to-infant transfer of specific fear

It is shown that maternal fear responses to a conditioned fear odor are sufficient to induce robust fear learning throughout infancy, with robust retention, and a mother-to-infant transfer of fear to a novel peppermint odor is reported, which is dependent on the mother expressing fear to that smell in pups’ presence.

Social modulation of learning in rats.

It is argued that socially transferred fear is an adaptation that promotes defensive behavior to potentially dangerous situations in the environment.

Endogenous opioids regulate social threat learning in humans

It is reported that blockade of this opioidergic circuit enhances social threat learning through observation in humans involving activity within the amygdala, midline thalamus and the PAG.

A common neural network differentially mediates direct and social fear learning

A modified mouse model for observational fear learning and the influence of social hierarchy

The findings highlight that combining this experimental model with the Z-scoring method yields robust emotionality measures of individual mice, thus making it easier to screen and differentiate between empathic fear-susceptible mice and resilient mice, and refining the translational applicability of these models.

From Extinction Learning to Anxiety Treatment: Mind the Gap

This paper will identify how translational research that investigates methods of enhancing extinction learning can more effectively model such elements of human fear learning, and how doing so will enhance the relevance of this research to the treatment of fear-based psychological disorders.



Learning fears by observing others: the neural systems of social fear transmission.

It is shown that fear acquired indirectly through social observation, with no personal experience of the aversive event, engages similar neural mechanisms as fear conditioning, and suggests that indirectly attained fears may be as powerful as fears originating from direct experiences.

The Role of Social Groups in the Persistence of Learned Fear

This work examined how the mechanisms of fear conditioning apply when humans learn to associate social ingroup and outgroup members with a fearful event, with the goal of advancing the understanding of basic learning theory and social group interaction.

Fears, phobias, and preparedness: toward an evolved module of fear and fear learning.

The fear module is assumed to mediate an emotional level of fear learning that is relatively independent and dissociable from cognitive learning of stimulus relationships.

Activation of the left amygdala to a cognitive representation of fear

The results suggest that the neural substrates that support conditioned fear across species have a similar but somewhat different role in more abstract representations of fear in humans.

Mechanisms involved in the observational conditioning of fear.

  • S. MinekaM. Cook
  • Psychology, Biology
    Journal of experimental psychology. General
  • 1993
Three experiments support the hypothesis that mechanisms involved in observational conditioning (OC) of fear are similar to those of direct classical conditioning and involve the organism attempting

Amygdala Response to Facial Expressions Reflects Emotional Learning

It is shown that the amygdala is more responsive to learning object–emotion associations from happy and fearful facial expressions than it is to the presentation of happy and feared facial expressions alone.

The Amygdala, Social Behavior, and Danger Detection

  • D. Amaral
  • Psychology, Biology
    Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences
  • 2003
It is hypothesized that the amygdala is a critical component of a system that evaluates the environment for potential dangers and has a modulatory role on social behavior—that is, it typically inhibits social interaction with novel conspecifics while they are evaluated as potential adversaries.

The amygdala: vigilance and emotion

A review of available studies examining the human amygdala covers both lesion and electrical stimulation studies as well as the most recent functional neuroimaging studies, and attempts to integrate basic information on normal amygdala function with the current understanding of psychiatric disorders, including pathological anxiety.

Learning from others to cope with biting flies: social learning of fear-induced conditioned analgesia and active avoidance.

Naive "observer" mice that witnessed other "demonstrator" mice being attacked by biting flies exhibited analgesia and self-burying 24 hr later to altered flies, which was acquired through social learning without direct individual experience with biting flies.