Effect of anxiety on behavioural pattern separation in humans

Nicholas L. Balderston, Ambika Mathur, Joel Adu-Brimpong, Elizabeth A. Hale, Monique Ernst, Christian Grillon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

23 Scopus citations


Behavioural pattern separation (BPS), the ability to distinguish among similar stimuli based on subtle physical differences, has been used to study the mechanism underlying stimulus generalisation. Fear overgeneralisation is often observed in individuals with posttraumatic stress disorder and other anxiety disorders. However, the relationship between anxiety and BPS remains unclear. The purpose of this study was to determine the effect of anxiety (threat of shock) on BPS, which was assessed across separate encoding and retrieval sessions. Images were encoded/retrieved during blocks of threat or safety in a 2 × 2 factorial design. During retrieval, participants indicated whether images were new, old, or altered. Better accuracy was observed for altered images encoded during periods of threat compared to safety, but only if those images were also retrieved during periods of safety. These results suggest that overgeneralisation in anxiety may be due to altered pattern separation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)238-248
Number of pages11
JournalCognition and Emotion
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 17 2017


  • Pattern separation
  • anxiety
  • generalisation
  • startle
  • threat of shock

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)


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