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The effect of immersive virtual reality on proximal and conditioned threat
Uppsala University, Disciplinary Domain of Humanities and Social Sciences, Faculty of Social Sciences, Department of Psychology.
Uppsala University, Disciplinary Domain of Humanities and Social Sciences, Faculty of Social Sciences, Department of Psychology.
Uppsala University, Disciplinary Domain of Humanities and Social Sciences, Faculty of Social Sciences, Department of Psychology.
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2019 (English)In: Scientific Reports, ISSN 2045-2322, E-ISSN 2045-2322, Vol. 9, article id 17407Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

Virtual reality lets the user be immersed in a 3-dimensional environment, which can enhance certain emotional responses to stimuli relative to experiencing them on a flat computer screen. We here tested whether displaying two different types of threats in immersive virtual reality enhanced threat related autonomic responses measured by skin conductance responses (SCRs). We studied innate and learned threat responses because these types of threats have been shown to depend on different neural circuits in animals. Therefore, it is possible that immersive virtual reality may modulate one of these threats but not the other. Innate threat responses were provoked by the sudden appearance of characters at proximal egocentric distance, which were compared to the sudden appearance of distant characters (proximal threat). Learned threat responses were studied by conditioning two of the characters to an electric shock (conditioned threat) and contrasting SCRs to these characters with SCRs to two other characters that were never paired with shock. We found that displaying stimuli in immersive virtual reality enhanced proximal threat responses but not conditioned threat responses. Findings show that immersive virtual reality can enhance an innate type of threat responses without affecting a learned threat response, suggesting that separate neural pathways serve these threat responses.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2019. Vol. 9, article id 17407
Keywords [en]
Emotion, SCR, Innate fear, Pavlovian conditioning
National Category
Psychology
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:uu:diva-395762DOI: 10.1038/s41598-019-53971-zISI: 000498056900033PubMedID: 31758051OAI: oai:DiVA.org:uu-395762DiVA, id: diva2:1365195
Funder
Swedish Research Council, 2014-01160Available from: 2019-10-23 Created: 2019-10-23 Last updated: 2019-12-06Bibliographically approved
In thesis
1. Innate and Conditioned Fear: Investigating Responses to Threat using Psychophysiology, Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging, and Twin Methodology
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Innate and Conditioned Fear: Investigating Responses to Threat using Psychophysiology, Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging, and Twin Methodology
2019 (English)Doctoral thesis, comprehensive summary (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

Evolution has shaped systems in the human brain to respond to danger. Some of these systems are innate or hard-wired, while others are learned throughout the entire life span. One commonly studied type of learned threat, conditioned fear, is acquired from experiencing aversive consequences. When considering innate threat, processing imminent and social threat may be especially relevant for understanding the neural circuitry of human fear. Imminent fear refers to experiencing proximal encounters whereas social fear refers to exposure to an unknown conspecific. Investigating whether different brain systems process innate and conditioned threat could provide us with knowledge on how defensive systems interact and inform on development and treatment of fear-related disorders. The first aim of this thesis was to investigate whether different brain systems process innate and conditioned threat. The second aim was to investigate if neural functions supporting imminent and social threat are heritable. In Study I, skin conductance responses (SCR) to social, imminent and conditioned threat displayed in immersive virtual-reality were compared. The results showed that social threat modulated imminent threat, but neither imminent nor social threat modulated conditioned threat, indicating that distinct processes regulate imminent and social threat on one end and conditioned threat on the other. Study II compared SCR to imminent and conditioned threat displayed either in an immersive virtual-reality head-mounted display or a regular computer monitor. The findings indicated that displaying stimuli in an immersive virtual-reality head-mounted display enhanced imminent threat responses as compared to displaying them on a regular computer monitor, suggesting a modulation of SCR by display type. Conditioned SCR was similar across displays. The conclusion of the study was that imminent threat and conditioned threat are different processes as it was possible to modulate one without affecting the other. Study III was a twin study comparing the genetic influence on neural responses to imminent and social threat using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and SCR. The results demonstrated strong genetic influence on responses in the lateral occipital cortex and the fusiform cortex to social threat whereas genetic influence on imminent threat was strong in early visual areas and occipito-parietal areas. In summary, innate and conditioned fear may depend on separate processes in the brain. Innate threat activates early visual areas, indicating a role for these areas in threat processing. Genetic influences on fMRI responses to social and imminent threat suggests that separate pathways may have evolved to process these threats.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Uppsala: Acta Universitatis Upsaliensis, 2019. p. 67
Series
Digital Comprehensive Summaries of Uppsala Dissertations from the Faculty of Social Sciences, ISSN 1652-9030 ; 174
Keywords
Emotion, Imminent threat, Social threat, Twins, Face, Personal space, fMRI, Virtual reality, Amygdala.
National Category
Psychology
Research subject
Psychology
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:uu:diva-395864 (URN)978-91-513-0804-3 (ISBN)
Public defence
2019-12-12, Betty Pettersson, Blåsenhus, von Kraemers Allé 1A, Uppsala, 10:15 (English)
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Supervisors
Available from: 2019-11-20 Created: 2019-10-24 Last updated: 2019-11-20

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