Fear of certain threat and anxiety about uncertain threat are distinct emotions with unique behavioral, cognitive-attentional, and neuroanatomical components. Both anxiety and fear can be studied in the laboratory by measuring the potentiation of the startle reflex. The startle reflex is a defensive reflex that is potentiated when an organism is threatened and the need for defense is high. The startle reflex is assessed via electromyography (EMG) in the orbicularis oculi muscle elicited by brief, intense, bursts of acoustic white noise (i.e., “startle probes”). Startle potentiation is calculated as the increase in startle response magnitude during presentation of sets of visual threat cues that signal delivery of mild electric shock relative to sets of matched cues that signal the absence of shock (no-threat cues). In the Threat Probability Task, fear is measured via startle potentiation to high probability (100% cue-contingent shock; certain) threat cues whereas anxiety is measured via startle potentiation to low probability (20% cue-contingent shock; uncertain) threat cues. Measurement of startle potentiation during the Threat Probability Task provides an objective and easily implemented alternative to assessment of negative affect via self-report or other methods (e.g., neuroimaging) that may be inappropriate or impractical for some researchers. Startle potentiation has been studied rigorously in both animals (e.g., rodents, non-human primates) and humans which facilitates animal-to-human translational research. Startle potentiation during certain and uncertain threat provides an objective measure of negative affective and distinct emotional states (fear, anxiety) to use in research on psychopathology, substance use/abuse and broadly in affective science. As such, it has been used extensively by clinical scientists interested in psychopathology etiology and by affective scientists interested in individual differences in emotion.
19 Related JoVE Articles!
Measuring Attentional Biases for Threat in Children and Adults
Institutions: Rutgers University.
Investigators have long been interested in the human propensity for the rapid detection of threatening stimuli. However, until recently, research in this domain has focused almost exclusively on adult participants, completely ignoring the topic of threat detection over the course of development. One of the biggest reasons for the lack of developmental work in this area is likely the absence of a reliable paradigm that can measure perceptual biases for threat in children. To address this issue, we recently designed a modified visual search paradigm similar to the standard adult paradigm that is appropriate for studying threat detection in preschool-aged participants. Here we describe this new procedure. In the general paradigm, we present participants with matrices of color photographs, and ask them to find and touch a target on the screen. Latency to touch the target is recorded. Using a touch-screen monitor makes the procedure simple and easy, allowing us to collect data in participants ranging from 3 years of age to adults. Thus far, the paradigm has consistently shown that both adults and children detect threatening stimuli (e.g.,
snakes, spiders, angry/fearful faces) more quickly than neutral stimuli (e.g.,
flowers, mushrooms, happy/neutral faces). Altogether, this procedure provides an important new tool for researchers interested in studying the development of attentional biases for threat.
Behavior, Issue 92, Detection, threat, attention, attentional bias, anxiety, visual search
A Standardized Obstacle Course for Assessment of Visual Function in Ultra Low Vision and Artificial Vision
Institutions: University of Pittsburgh, University of Pittsburgh.
We describe an indoor, portable, standardized course that can be used to evaluate obstacle avoidance in persons who have ultralow vision. Six sighted controls and 36 completely blind but otherwise healthy adult male (n=29) and female (n=13) subjects (age range 19-85 years), were enrolled in one of three studies involving testing of the BrainPort sensory substitution device. Subjects were asked to navigate the course prior to, and after, BrainPort training. They completed a total of 837 course runs in two different locations. Means and standard deviations were calculated across control types, courses, lights, and visits. We used a linear mixed effects model to compare different categories in the PPWS (percent preferred walking speed) and error percent data to show that the course iterations were properly designed. The course is relatively inexpensive, simple to administer, and has been shown to be a feasible way to test mobility function. Data analysis demonstrates that for the outcome of percent error as well as for percentage preferred walking speed, that each of the three courses is different, and that within each level, each of the three iterations are equal. This allows for randomization of the courses during administration.
preferred walking speed (PWS)
course speed (CS)
percentage preferred walking speed (PPWS)
Medicine, Issue 84, Obstacle course, navigation assessment, BrainPort, wayfinding, low vision
Light Preference Assay to Study Innate and Circadian Regulated Photobehavior in Drosophila Larvae
Institutions: University of Fribourg.
Light acts as environmental signal to control animal behavior at various levels. The Drosophila
larval nervous system is used as a unique model to answer basic questions on how light information is processed and shared between rapid and circadian behaviors. Drosophila
larvae display a stereotypical avoidance behavior when exposed to light. To investigate light dependent behaviors comparably simple light-dark preference tests can be applied. In vertebrates and arthropods the neural pathways involved in sensing and processing visual inputs partially overlap with those processing photic circadian information. The fascinating question of how the light sensing system and the circadian system interact to keep behavioral outputs coordinated remains largely unexplored. Drosophila
is an impacting biological model to approach these questions, due to a small number of neurons in the brain and the availability of genetic tools for neuronal manipulation. The presented light-dark preference assay allows the investigation of a range of visual behaviors including circadian control of phototaxis.
Neuroscience, Issue 74, Developmental Biology, Neurobiology, Behavior, Molecular Biology, Cellular Biology, Physiology, Anatomy, Light, preference test, Drosophila, larva, fruit fly, visual behavior, circadian rhythm, visual system, animal model, assay
Compensatory Limb Use and Behavioral Assessment of Motor Skill Learning Following Sensorimotor Cortex Injury in a Mouse Model of Ischemic Stroke
Institutions: Illinois Wesleyan University, University of Victoria.
Mouse models have become increasingly popular in the field of behavioral neuroscience, and specifically in studies of experimental stroke. As models advance, it is important to develop sensitive behavioral measures specific to the mouse. The present protocol describes a skilled motor task for use in mouse models of stroke. The Pasta Matrix Reaching Task functions as a versatile and sensitive behavioral assay that permits experimenters to collect accurate outcome data and manipulate limb use to mimic human clinical phenomena including compensatory strategies (i.e.
, learned non-use) and focused rehabilitative training. When combined with neuroanatomical tools, this task also permits researchers to explore the mechanisms that support behavioral recovery of function (or lack thereof) following stroke. The task is both simple and affordable to set up and conduct, offering a variety of training and testing options for numerous research questions concerning functional outcome following injury. Though the task has been applied to mouse models of stroke, it may also be beneficial in studies of functional outcome in other upper extremity injury models.
Behavior, Issue 89, Upper extremity impairment, Murine model, Rehabilitation, Reaching, Non-paretic limb training, Good limb training, Less-affected limb training, Learned non-use, Pasta matrix reaching task
Community-based Adapted Tango Dancing for Individuals with Parkinson's Disease and Older Adults
Institutions: Emory University School of Medicine, Brigham and Woman‘s Hospital and Massachusetts General Hospital.
Adapted tango dancing improves mobility and balance in older adults and additional populations with balance impairments. It is composed of very simple step elements. Adapted tango involves movement initiation and cessation, multi-directional perturbations, varied speeds and rhythms. Focus on foot placement, whole body coordination, and attention to partner, path of movement, and aesthetics likely underlie adapted tango’s demonstrated efficacy for improving mobility and balance. In this paper, we describe the methodology to disseminate the adapted tango teaching methods to dance instructor trainees and to implement the adapted tango by the trainees in the community for older adults and individuals with Parkinson’s Disease (PD). Efficacy in improving mobility (measured with the Timed Up and Go, Tandem stance, Berg Balance Scale, Gait Speed and 30 sec chair stand), safety and fidelity of the program is maximized through targeted instructor and volunteer training and a structured detailed syllabus outlining class practices and progression.
Behavior, Issue 94, Dance, tango, balance, pedagogy, dissemination, exercise, older adults, Parkinson's Disease, mobility impairments, falls
Drosophila Adult Olfactory Shock Learning
Institutions: University of Bristol.
have been used in classical conditioning experiments for over 40 years, thus greatly facilitating our understanding of memory, including the elucidation of the molecular mechanisms involved in cognitive diseases1-7
. Learning and memory can be assayed in larvae to study the effect of neurodevelopmental genes8-10
and in flies to measure the contribution of adult plasticity genes1-7
. Furthermore, the short lifespan of Drosophila
facilitates the analysis of genes mediating age-related memory impairment5,11-13
. The availability of many inducible promoters that subdivide the Drosophila
nervous system makes it possible to determine when and where a gene of interest is required for normal memory as well as relay of different aspects of the reinforcement signal3,4,14,16
Studying memory in adult Drosophila
allows for a detailed analysis of the behavior and circuitry involved and a measurement of long-term memory15-17
. The length of the adult stage accommodates longer-term genetic, behavioral, dietary and pharmacological manipulations of memory, in addition to determining the effect of aging and neurodegenerative disease on memory3-6,11-13,15-21
Classical conditioning is induced by the simultaneous presentation of a neutral odor cue (conditioned stimulus, CS+
) and a reinforcement stimulus, e.g
., an electric shock or sucrose, (unconditioned stimulus, US), that become associated with one another by the animal1,16
. A second conditioned stimulus (CS-
) is subsequently presented without the US. During the testing phase, Drosophila
are simultaneously presented with CS+ and CS- odors. After the Drosophila
are provided time to choose between the odors, the distribution of the animals is recorded. This procedure allows associative aversive or appetitive conditioning to be reliably measured without a bias introduced by the innate preference for either of the conditioned stimuli. Various control experiments are also performed to test whether all genotypes respond normally to odor and reinforcement alone.
Neuroscience, Issue 90, Drosophila, Pavlovian learning, classical conditioning, learning, memory, olfactory, electric shock, associative memory
Investigating the Neural Mechanisms of Aware and Unaware Fear Memory with fMRI
Institutions: University of Alabama at Birmingham.
Pavlovian fear conditioning is often used in combination with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) in humans to investigate the neural substrates of associative learning 1-5
. In these studies, it is important to provide behavioral evidence of conditioning to verify that differences in brain activity are learning-related and correlated with human behavior.
Fear conditioning studies often monitor autonomic responses (e.g. skin conductance response; SCR) as an index of learning and memory 6-8
. In addition, other behavioral measures can provide valuable information about the learning process and/or other cognitive functions that influence conditioning. For example, the impact unconditioned stimulus (UCS) expectancies have on the expression of the conditioned response (CR) and unconditioned response (UCR) has been a topic of interest in several recent studies 9-14
. SCR and UCS expectancy measures have recently been used in conjunction with fMRI to investigate the neural substrates of aware and unaware fear learning and memory processes 15
. Although these cognitive processes can be evaluated to some degree following the conditioning session, post-conditioning assessments cannot measure expectations on a trial-to-trial basis and are susceptible to interference and forgetting, as well as other factors that may distort results 16,17
Monitoring autonomic and behavioral responses simultaneously with fMRI provides a mechanism by which the neural substrates that mediate complex relationships between cognitive processes and behavioral/autonomic responses can be assessed. However, monitoring autonomic and behavioral responses in the MRI environment poses a number of practical problems. Specifically, 1) standard behavioral and physiological monitoring equipment is constructed of ferrous material that cannot be safely used near the MRI scanner, 2) when this equipment is placed outside of the MRI scanning chamber, the cables projecting to the subject can carry RF noise that produces artifacts in brain images, 3) artifacts can be produced within the skin conductance signal by switching gradients during scanning, 4) the fMRI signal produced by the motor demands of behavioral responses may need to be distinguished from activity related to the cognitive processes of interest. Each of these issues can be resolved with modifications to the setup of physiological monitoring equipment and additional data analysis procedures. Here we present a methodology to simultaneously monitor autonomic and behavioral responses during fMRI, and demonstrate the use of these methods to investigate aware and unaware memory processes during fear conditioning.
Neuroscience, Issue 56, fMRI, conditioning, learning, memory, fear, contingency awareness, neuroscience, skin conductance
Appetitive Associative Olfactory Learning in Drosophila Larvae
Institutions: University of Konstanz, University of Fribourg.
In the following we describe the methodological details of appetitive associative olfactory learning in Drosophila
larvae. The setup, in combination with genetic interference, provides a handle to analyze the neuronal and molecular fundamentals of specifically associative
learning in a simple larval brain.
Organisms can use past experience to adjust present behavior. Such acquisition of behavioral potential can be defined as learning, and the physical bases of these potentials as memory traces1-4
. Neuroscientists try to understand how these processes are organized in terms of molecular and neuronal changes in the brain by using a variety of methods in model organisms ranging from insects to vertebrates5,6
. For such endeavors it is helpful to use model systems that are simple and experimentally accessible. The Drosophila
larva has turned out to satisfy these demands based on the availability of robust behavioral assays, the existence of a variety of transgenic techniques and the elementary organization of the nervous system comprising only about 10,000 neurons (albeit with some concessions: cognitive limitations, few behavioral options, and richness of experience questionable)7-10
larvae can form associations between odors and appetitive gustatory reinforcement like sugar11-14
. In a standard assay, established in the lab of B. Gerber, animals receive a two-odor reciprocal training: A first group of larvae is exposed to an odor A together with a gustatory reinforcer (sugar reward) and is subsequently exposed to an odor B without reinforcement 9
. Meanwhile a second group of larvae receives reciprocal training while experiencing odor A without reinforcement and subsequently being exposed to odor B with reinforcement (sugar reward). In the following both groups are tested for their preference between the two odors. Relatively higher preferences for the rewarded odor reflect associative learning - presented as a performance index (PI). The conclusion regarding the associative nature of the performance index is compelling, because apart from the contingency between odors and tastants, other parameters, such as odor and reward exposure, passage of time and handling do not differ between the two groups9
Neuroscience, Issue 72, Developmental Biology, Neurobiology, Biochemistry, Molecular Biology, Physiology, Behavior, Drosophila, fruit fly, larvae, instar, olfaction, olfactory system, odor, 1-octanol, OCT, learning, reward, sugar, feeding, animal model
A Procedure to Observe Context-induced Renewal of Pavlovian-conditioned Alcohol-seeking Behavior in Rats
Institutions: Concordia University.
Environmental contexts in which drugs of abuse are consumed can trigger craving, a subjective Pavlovian-conditioned response that can facilitate drug-seeking behavior and prompt relapse in abstinent drug users. We have developed a procedure to study the behavioral and neural processes that mediate the impact of context on alcohol-seeking behavior in rats. Following acclimation to the taste and pharmacological effects of 15% ethanol in the home cage, male Long-Evans rats receive Pavlovian discrimination training (PDT) in conditioning chambers. In each daily (Mon-Fri) PDT session, 16 trials each of two different 10 sec auditory conditioned stimuli occur. During one stimulus, the CS+, 0.2 ml of 15% ethanol is delivered into a fluid port for oral consumption. The second stimulus, the CS-, is not paired with ethanol. Across sessions, entries into the fluid port during the CS+ increase, whereas entries during the CS- stabilize at a lower level, indicating that a predictive association between the CS+ and ethanol is acquired. During PDT each chamber is equipped with a specific configuration of visual, olfactory and tactile contextual stimuli. Following PDT, extinction training is conducted in the same chamber that is now equipped with a different configuration of contextual stimuli. The CS+ and CS- are presented as before, but ethanol is withheld, which causes a gradual decline in port entries during the CS+. At test, rats are placed back into the PDT context and presented with the CS+ and CS- as before, but without ethanol. This manipulation triggers a robust and selective increase in the number of port entries made during the alcohol predictive CS+, with no change in responding during the CS-. This effect, referred to as context-induced renewal, illustrates the powerful capacity of contexts associated with alcohol consumption to stimulate alcohol-seeking behavior in response to Pavlovian alcohol cues.
Behavior, Issue 91, Behavioral neuroscience, alcoholism, relapse, addiction, Pavlovian conditioning, ethanol, reinstatement, discrimination, conditioned approach
Contextual and Cued Fear Conditioning Test Using a Video Analyzing System in Mice
Institutions: Fujita Health University, Core Research for Evolutionary Science and Technology (CREST), National Institutes of Natural Sciences.
The contextual and cued fear conditioning test is one of the behavioral tests that assesses the ability of mice to learn and remember an association between environmental cues and aversive experiences. In this test, mice are placed into a conditioning chamber and are given parings of a conditioned stimulus (an auditory cue) and an aversive unconditioned stimulus (an electric footshock). After a delay time, the mice are exposed to the same conditioning chamber and a differently shaped chamber with presentation of the auditory cue. Freezing behavior during the test is measured as an index of fear memory. To analyze the behavior automatically, we have developed a video analyzing system using the ImageFZ application software program, which is available as a free download at http://www.mouse-phenotype.org/. Here, to show the details of our protocol, we demonstrate our procedure for the contextual and cued fear conditioning test in C57BL/6J mice using the ImageFZ system. In addition, we validated our protocol and the video analyzing system performance by comparing freezing time measured by the ImageFZ system or a photobeam-based computer measurement system with that scored by a human observer. As shown in our representative results, the data obtained by ImageFZ were similar to those analyzed by a human observer, indicating that the behavioral analysis using the ImageFZ system is highly reliable. The present movie article provides detailed information regarding the test procedures and will promote understanding of the experimental situation.
Behavior, Issue 85, Fear, Learning, Memory, ImageFZ program, Mouse, contextual fear, cued fear
Extinction Training During the Reconsolidation Window Prevents Recovery of Fear
Institutions: Mt. Sinai School of Medicine, New York University , New York University .
Fear is maladaptive when it persists long after circumstances have become safe. It is therefore crucial to develop an approach that persistently prevents the return of fear. Pavlovian fear-conditioning paradigms are commonly employed to create a controlled, novel fear association in the laboratory. After pairing an innocuous stimulus (conditioned stimulus, CS) with an aversive outcome (unconditioned stimulus, US) we can elicit a fear response (conditioned response, or CR) by presenting just the stimulus alone1,2
. Once fear is acquired, it can be diminished using extinction training, whereby the conditioned stimulus is repeatedly presented without the aversive outcome until fear is no longer expressed3
. This inhibitory learning creates a new, safe representation for the CS, which competes for expression with the original fear memory4
. Although extinction is effective at inhibiting fear, it is not permanent. Fear can spontaneously recover with the passage of time. Exposure to stress or returning to the context of initial learning can also cause fear to resurface3,4
Our protocol addresses the transient nature of extinction by targeting the reconsolidation window to modify emotional memory in a more permanent manner. Ample evidence suggests that reactivating a consolidated memory returns it to a labile state, during which the memory is again susceptible to interference5-9
. This window of opportunity appears to open shortly after reactivation and close approximately 6hrs later5,11,16
, although this may vary depending on the strength and age of the memory15
. By allowing new information to incorporate into the original memory trace, this memory may be updated as it reconsolidates10,11
. Studies involving non-human animals have successfully blocked the expression of fear memory by introducing pharmacological manipulations within the reconsolidation window, however, most agents used are either toxic to humans or show equivocal effects when used in human studies12-14
. Our protocol addresses these challenges by offering an effective, yet non-invasive, behavioral manipulation that is safe for humans.
By prompting fear memory retrieval prior to extinction, we essentially trigger the reconsolidation process, allowing new safety information (i.e.
, extinction) to be incorporated while the fear memory is still susceptible to interference. A recent study employing this behavioral manipulation in rats has successfully blocked fear memory using these temporal parameters11
. Additional studies in humans have demonstrated that introducing new information after the retrieval of previously consolidated motor16
, or declarative18
memories leads to interference with the original memory trace14
. We outline below a novel protocol used to block fear recovery in humans.
Neuroscience, Issue 66, Medicine, Psychology, Physiology, Fear conditioning, extinction, reconsolidation, emotional memory, spontaneous recovery, skin conductance response
Trace Fear Conditioning in Mice
Institutions: Baylor University, Baylor University.
In this experiment we present a technique to measure learning and memory. In the trace fear conditioning protocol presented here there are five pairings between a neutral stimulus and an unconditioned stimulus. There is a 20 sec trace period that separates each conditioning trial. On the following day freezing is measured during presentation of the conditioned stimulus (CS) and trace period. On the third day there is an 8 min test to measure contextual memory. The representative results are from mice that were presented with the aversive unconditioned stimulus (shock) compared to mice that received the tone presentations without the unconditioned stimulus. Trace fear conditioning has been successfully used to detect subtle learning and memory deficits and enhancements in mice that are not found with other fear conditioning methods. This type of fear conditioning is believed to be dependent upon connections between the medial prefrontal cortex and the hippocampus. One current controversy is whether this method is believed to be amygdala-independent. Therefore, other fear conditioning testing is needed to examine amygdala-dependent learning and memory effects, such as through the delay fear conditioning.
Behavior, Issue 85, fear conditioning, learning, trace conditioning, memory, conditioned and unconditioned stimulus, neutral stimulus, amygdala-dependent learning
How to Detect Amygdala Activity with Magnetoencephalography using Source Imaging
Institutions: University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Montreal Neurological Institute, McGill University, Medical College of Wisconsin .
In trace fear conditioning a conditional stimulus (CS) predicts the occurrence of the unconditional stimulus (UCS), which is presented after a brief stimulus free period (trace interval)1
. Because the CS and UCS do not co-occur temporally, the subject must maintain a representation of that CS during the trace interval. In humans, this type of learning requires awareness of the stimulus contingencies in order to bridge the trace interval2-4
. However when a face is used as a CS, subjects can implicitly learn to fear the face even in the absence of explicit awareness*. This suggests that there may be additional neural mechanisms capable of maintaining certain types of "biologically-relevant" stimuli during a brief trace interval. Given that the amygdala is involved in trace conditioning, and is sensitive to faces, it is possible that this structure can maintain a representation of a face CS during a brief trace interval.
It is challenging to understand how the brain can associate an unperceived face with an aversive outcome, even though the two stimuli are separated in time. Furthermore investigations of this phenomenon are made difficult by two specific challenges. First, it is difficult to manipulate the subject's awareness of the visual stimuli. One common way to manipulate visual awareness is to use backward masking. In backward masking, a target stimulus is briefly presented (< 30 msec) and immediately followed by a presentation of an overlapping masking stimulus5
. The presentation of the mask renders the target invisible6-8
. Second, masking requires very rapid and precise timing making it difficult to investigate neural responses evoked by masked stimuli using many common approaches. Blood-oxygenation level dependent (BOLD) responses resolve at a timescale too slow for this type of methodology, and real time recording techniques like electroencephalography (EEG) and magnetoencephalography (MEG) have difficulties recovering signal from deep sources.
However, there have been recent advances in the methods used to localize the neural sources of the MEG signal9-11
. By collecting high-resolution MRI images of the subject's brain, it is possible to create a source model based on individual neural anatomy. Using this model to "image" the sources of the MEG signal, it is possible to recover signal from deep subcortical structures, like the amygdala and the hippocampus*.
Behavior, Issue 76, Neuroscience, Neurobiology, Molecular Biology, Medicine, Physiology, Anatomy, Psychology, Amygdala, Magnetoencephalography, Fear, awareness, masking, source imaging, conditional stimulus, unconditional stimulus, hippocampus, brain, magnetic resonance imaging, MRI, fMRI, imaging, clinical techniques
A Proboscis Extension Response Protocol for Investigating Behavioral Plasticity in Insects: Application to Basic, Biomedical, and Agricultural Research
Institutions: Arizona State University.
Insects modify their responses to stimuli through experience of associating those stimuli with events important for survival (e.g.
, food, mates, threats). There are several behavioral mechanisms through which an insect learns salient associations and relates them to these events. It is important to understand this behavioral plasticity for programs aimed toward assisting insects that are beneficial for agriculture. This understanding can also be used for discovering solutions to biomedical and agricultural problems created by insects that act as disease vectors and pests. The Proboscis Extension Response (PER) conditioning protocol was developed for honey bees (Apis mellifera
) over 50 years ago to study how they perceive and learn about floral odors, which signal the nectar and pollen resources a colony needs for survival. The PER procedure provides a robust and easy-to-employ framework for studying several different ecologically relevant mechanisms of behavioral plasticity. It is easily adaptable for use with several other insect species and other behavioral reflexes. These protocols can be readily employed in conjunction with various means for monitoring neural activity in the CNS via electrophysiology or bioimaging, or for manipulating targeted neuromodulatory pathways. It is a robust assay for rapidly detecting sub-lethal effects on behavior caused by environmental stressors, toxins or pesticides.
We show how the PER protocol is straightforward to implement using two procedures. One is suitable as a laboratory exercise for students or for quick assays of the effect of an experimental treatment. The other provides more thorough control of variables, which is important for studies of behavioral conditioning. We show how several measures for the behavioral response ranging from binary yes/no to more continuous variable like latency and duration of proboscis extension can be used to test hypotheses. And, we discuss some pitfalls that researchers commonly encounter when they use the procedure for the first time.
Neuroscience, Issue 91, PER, conditioning, honey bee, olfaction, olfactory processing, learning, memory, toxin assay
Training Synesthetic Letter-color Associations by Reading in Color
Institutions: University of Amsterdam.
Synesthesia is a rare condition in which a stimulus from one modality automatically and consistently triggers unusual sensations in the same and/or other modalities. A relatively common and well-studied type is grapheme-color synesthesia, defined as the consistent experience of color when viewing, hearing and thinking about letters, words and numbers. We describe our method for investigating to what extent synesthetic associations between letters and colors can be learned by reading in color in nonsynesthetes. Reading in color is a special method for training associations in the sense that the associations are learned implicitly while the reader reads text as he or she normally would and it does not require explicit computer-directed training methods. In this protocol, participants are given specially prepared books to read in which four high-frequency letters are paired with four high-frequency colors. Participants receive unique sets of letter-color pairs based on their pre-existing preferences for colored letters. A modified Stroop task is administered before and after reading in order to test for learned letter-color associations and changes in brain activation. In addition to objective testing, a reading experience questionnaire is administered that is designed to probe for differences in subjective experience. A subset of questions may predict how well an individual learned the associations from reading in color. Importantly, we are not claiming that this method will cause each individual to develop grapheme-color synesthesia, only that it is possible for certain individuals to form letter-color associations by reading in color and these associations are similar in some aspects to those seen in developmental grapheme-color synesthetes. The method is quite flexible and can be used to investigate different aspects and outcomes of training synesthetic associations, including learning-induced changes in brain function and structure.
Behavior, Issue 84, synesthesia, training, learning, reading, vision, memory, cognition
Physical, Chemical and Biological Characterization of Six Biochars Produced for the Remediation of Contaminated Sites
Institutions: Royal Military College of Canada, Queen's University.
The physical and chemical properties of biochar vary based on feedstock sources and production conditions, making it possible to engineer biochars with specific functions (e.g.
carbon sequestration, soil quality improvements, or contaminant sorption). In 2013, the International Biochar Initiative (IBI) made publically available their Standardized Product Definition and Product Testing Guidelines (Version 1.1) which set standards for physical and chemical characteristics for biochar. Six biochars made from three different feedstocks and at two temperatures were analyzed for characteristics related to their use as a soil amendment. The protocol describes analyses of the feedstocks and biochars and includes: cation exchange capacity (CEC), specific surface area (SSA), organic carbon (OC) and moisture percentage, pH, particle size distribution, and proximate and ultimate analysis. Also described in the protocol are the analyses of the feedstocks and biochars for contaminants including polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), metals and mercury as well as nutrients (phosphorous, nitrite and nitrate and ammonium as nitrogen). The protocol also includes the biological testing procedures, earthworm avoidance and germination assays. Based on the quality assurance / quality control (QA/QC) results of blanks, duplicates, standards and reference materials, all methods were determined adequate for use with biochar and feedstock materials. All biochars and feedstocks were well within the criterion set by the IBI and there were little differences among biochars, except in the case of the biochar produced from construction waste materials. This biochar (referred to as Old biochar) was determined to have elevated levels of arsenic, chromium, copper, and lead, and failed the earthworm avoidance and germination assays. Based on these results, Old biochar would not be appropriate for use as a soil amendment for carbon sequestration, substrate quality improvements or remediation.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 93, biochar, characterization, carbon sequestration, remediation, International Biochar Initiative (IBI), soil amendment
Brain Imaging Investigation of the Neural Correlates of Observing Virtual Social Interactions
Institutions: University of Alberta, University of Illinois, University of Alberta, University of Alberta, University of Alberta, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
The ability to gauge social interactions is crucial in the assessment of others’ intentions. Factors such as facial expressions and body language affect our decisions in personal and professional life alike 1
. These "friend or foe
" judgements are often based on first impressions, which in turn may affect our decisions to "approach or avoid
". Previous studies investigating the neural correlates of social cognition tended to use static facial stimuli 2
. Here, we illustrate an experimental design in which whole-body animated characters were used in conjunction with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) recordings. Fifteen participants were presented with short movie-clips of guest-host interactions in a business setting, while fMRI data were recorded; at the end of each movie, participants also provided ratings of the host behaviour. This design mimics more closely real-life situations, and hence may contribute to better understanding of the neural mechanisms of social interactions in healthy behaviour, and to gaining insight into possible causes of deficits in social behaviour in such clinical conditions as social anxiety and autism 3
Neuroscience, Issue 53, Social Perception, Social Knowledge, Social Cognition Network, Non-Verbal Communication, Decision-Making, Event-Related fMRI
The use of Biofeedback in Clinical Virtual Reality: The INTREPID Project
Institutions: Istituto Auxologico Italiano, Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore.
Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is a psychiatric disorder characterized by a constant and unspecific anxiety that interferes with daily-life activities. Its high prevalence in general population and the severe limitations it causes, point out the necessity to find new efficient strategies to treat it. Together with the cognitive-behavioral treatments, relaxation represents a useful approach for the treatment of GAD, but it has the limitation that it is hard to be learned. The INTREPID project is aimed to implement a new instrument to treat anxiety-related disorders and to test its clinical efficacy in reducing anxiety-related symptoms. The innovation of this approach is the combination of virtual reality and biofeedback, so that the first one is directly modified by the output of the second one. In this way, the patient is made aware of his or her reactions through the modification of some features of the VR environment in real time. Using mental exercises the patient learns to control these physiological parameters and using the feedback provided by the virtual environment is able to gauge his or her success. The supplemental use of portable devices, such as PDA or smart-phones, allows the patient to perform at home, individually and autonomously, the same exercises experienced in therapist's office. The goal is to anchor the learned protocol in a real life context, so enhancing the patients' ability to deal with their symptoms. The expected result is a better and faster learning of relaxation techniques, and thus an increased effectiveness of the treatment if compared with traditional clinical protocols.
Neuroscience, Issue 33, virtual reality, biofeedback, generalized anxiety disorder, Intrepid, cybertherapy, cyberpsychology
Human Fear Conditioning Conducted in Full Immersion 3-Dimensional Virtual Reality
Institutions: Duke University, Duke University.
Fear conditioning is a widely used paradigm in non-human animal research to investigate the neural mechanisms underlying fear and anxiety. A major challenge in conducting conditioning studies in humans is the ability to strongly manipulate or simulate the environmental contexts that are associated with conditioned emotional behaviors. In this regard, virtual reality (VR) technology is a promising tool. Yet, adapting this technology to meet experimental constraints requires special accommodations. Here we address the methodological issues involved when conducting fear conditioning in a fully immersive 6-sided VR environment and present fear conditioning data.
In the real world, traumatic events occur in complex environments that are made up of many cues, engaging all of our sensory modalities. For example, cues that form the environmental configuration include not only visual elements, but aural, olfactory, and even tactile. In rodent studies of fear conditioning animals are fully immersed in a context that is rich with novel visual, tactile and olfactory cues. However, standard laboratory tests of fear conditioning in humans are typically conducted in a nondescript room in front of a flat or 2D computer screen and do not replicate the complexity of real world experiences. On the other hand, a major limitation of clinical studies aimed at reducing (extinguishing) fear and preventing relapse in anxiety disorders is that treatment occurs after participants have acquired a fear in an uncontrolled and largely unknown context. Thus the experimenters are left without information about the duration of exposure, the true nature of the stimulus, and associated background cues in the environment1
. In the absence of this information it can be difficult to truly extinguish a fear that is both cue and context-dependent. Virtual reality environments address these issues by providing the complexity of the real world, and at the same time allowing experimenters to constrain fear conditioning and extinction parameters to yield empirical data that can suggest better treatment options and/or analyze mechanistic hypotheses.
In order to test the hypothesis that fear conditioning may be richly encoded and context specific when conducted in a fully immersive environment, we developed distinct virtual reality 3-D contexts in which participants experienced fear conditioning to virtual snakes or spiders. Auditory cues co-occurred with the CS in order to further evoke orienting responses and a feeling of "presence" in subjects 2
. Skin conductance response served as the dependent measure of fear acquisition, memory retention and extinction.
JoVE Neuroscience, Issue 42, fear conditioning, virtual reality, human memory, skin conductance response, context learning