Presentation Type

Poster

Faculty Mentor’s Full Name

Nathan Insel

Faculty Mentor’s Department

Psychology

Abstract

Learning to fear a dangerous situation is an essential survival skill. However, the inability to extinguish a learned fear response can lead to anxiety disorders. In this study we attempted to determine whether fear memories could be extinguished through social learning. We analyzed data collected in an experiment using degus (Octodon degus) in which one experienced individual observed a naive cagemate entering and exploring a dangerous environment. The experienced degu was conditioned in a chamber which contained a “danger” side (a partition in which they could receive a foot shock) and a “safe” side (where they would receive no shock), separated by a neutral, “viewing” area. After conditioning, the naive cagemate, who had no previous experience with the box or the shock, was placed in the chamber with the experienced degu. The study was originally designed to test whether the experienced degu would show fear (empathy) for the naive cagemate; however, preliminary analyses showed no evidence for this. To test whether the social exposure reduced fear for the danger side (social fear extinction), we examined whether the experienced degu still avoided the danger side in subsequent sessions.

The total amount of time the experienced degu spent in the danger room did was not significantly higher following testing with their naïve cagemate compared with following testing with an object (paired t-test, p = 0.11; alpha = 0.1 based on a one-tailed test). However, when time on the danger side was considered relative to time spent in the safe partition (thus controlling for movement around the environment), avoidance of the danger side was found to be significantly higher following testing with an object (paired t-test, p = 0.058). The data are therefore consistent with the possibility that rodents can learn that a region of space is “safe” by observing others behaving normally in that space.

Category

Social Sciences

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Apr 27th, 3:00 PM Apr 27th, 4:00 PM

Social Learning of Safety in Degus

UC South Ballroom

Learning to fear a dangerous situation is an essential survival skill. However, the inability to extinguish a learned fear response can lead to anxiety disorders. In this study we attempted to determine whether fear memories could be extinguished through social learning. We analyzed data collected in an experiment using degus (Octodon degus) in which one experienced individual observed a naive cagemate entering and exploring a dangerous environment. The experienced degu was conditioned in a chamber which contained a “danger” side (a partition in which they could receive a foot shock) and a “safe” side (where they would receive no shock), separated by a neutral, “viewing” area. After conditioning, the naive cagemate, who had no previous experience with the box or the shock, was placed in the chamber with the experienced degu. The study was originally designed to test whether the experienced degu would show fear (empathy) for the naive cagemate; however, preliminary analyses showed no evidence for this. To test whether the social exposure reduced fear for the danger side (social fear extinction), we examined whether the experienced degu still avoided the danger side in subsequent sessions.

The total amount of time the experienced degu spent in the danger room did was not significantly higher following testing with their naïve cagemate compared with following testing with an object (paired t-test, p = 0.11; alpha = 0.1 based on a one-tailed test). However, when time on the danger side was considered relative to time spent in the safe partition (thus controlling for movement around the environment), avoidance of the danger side was found to be significantly higher following testing with an object (paired t-test, p = 0.058). The data are therefore consistent with the possibility that rodents can learn that a region of space is “safe” by observing others behaving normally in that space.