Journal Article

Aversive Learning Modulates Cortical Representations of Object Categories

Joseph E. Dunsmoor, Philip A. Kragel, Alex Martin and Kevin S. LaBar

in Cerebral Cortex

Volume 24, issue 11, pages 2859-2872
Published in print November 2014 | ISSN: 1047-3211
Published online May 2013 | e-ISSN: 1460-2199 | DOI:
Aversive Learning Modulates Cortical Representations of Object Categories

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Experimental studies of conditioned learning reveal activity changes in the amygdala and unimodal sensory cortex underlying fear acquisition to simple stimuli. However, real-world fears typically involve complex stimuli represented at the category level. A consequence of category-level representations of threat is that aversive experiences with particular category members may lead one to infer that related exemplars likewise pose a threat, despite variations in physical form. Here, we examined the effect of category-level representations of threat on human brain activation using 2 superordinate categories (animals and tools) as conditioned stimuli. Hemodynamic activity in the amygdala and category-selective cortex was modulated by the reinforcement contingency, leading to widespread fear of different exemplars from the reinforced category. Multivariate representational similarity analyses revealed that activity patterns in the amygdala and object-selective cortex were more similar among exemplars from the threat versus safe category. Learning to fear animate objects was additionally characterized by enhanced functional coupling between the amygdala and fusiform gyrus. Finally, hippocampal activity co-varied with object typicality and amygdala activation early during training. These findings provide novel evidence that aversive learning can modulate category-level representations of object concepts, thereby enabling individuals to express fear to a range of related stimuli.

Keywords: anxiety; categories and concepts; fear conditioning; functional magnetic resonance imaging; generalization

Journal Article.  9380 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Neuroscience

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