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Penn Medicine researchers discover link between fear and sound perception
Date:6/30/2013

can change following a traumatic event, known as emotional learning. In these experiments, which are based on classical (Pavlovian) conditioning, animals learn to distinguish between potentially dangerous and safe sounds -- called "emotional discrimination learning." This type of conditioning tends to result in relatively poor learning, but Aizenberg and Geffen designed a series of learning tasks intended to create progressively greater emotional discrimination in the mice, varying the difficulty of the task. What really interested them was how different levels of emotional discrimination would affect hearing acuity in other words, how emotional responses affect perception and discrimination of sounds. This study established the link between emotions and perception of the world something that has not been understood before.

The researchers found that, as expected, fine emotional learning tasks produced greater learning specificity than tests in which the tones were farther apart in frequency. As Geffen explains, "The animals presented with sounds that were very far apart generalize the fear that they developed to the danger tone over a whole range of frequencies, whereas the animals presented with the two sounds that were very similar exhibited specialization of their emotional response. Following the fine conditioning task, they figured out that it's a very narrow range of pitches that are potentially dangerous."

When pitch discrimination abilities were measured in the animals, the mice with more specific responses displayed much finer auditory acuity than the mice who were frightened by a broader range of frequencies. "There was a relationship between how much their emotional response generalized and how well they could tell different tones apart," says Geffen. "In the animals that specialized their emotional response, pitch discrimination actually became sharper. They could discriminate two tones that they previously could not tell apar
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Contact: Jessica Mikulski
jessica.mikulski@uphs.upenn.edu
215-349-8369
University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine
Source:Eurekalert

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