McNair Scholars Research Journal
Inhibitory Learning Theory and Emotional Processing Theory for Proper Extinction Learning in Specific Phobias: A Comprehensive Comparison
Emotional processing theory (EPT) is the underlying framework for traditional exposure therapy (Barlow, 2004). EPT relies on a process known as habituation, presuming that the amount of fear reduction from peak fear levels within an exposure therapy session predicts successful extinction learning. Prevailing research in behavioral psychology challenges the EPT framework for its capacity to accurately predict long-term extinction learning. Inhibitory learning theory (ILT) offers a different approach to exposure therapy, centered around forming new non-threat associations (e.g., memories) by way of fear acceptance rather than attempts to down-regulate aversive emotions (Craske et al., 2008). By examining pertinent literature on memory and learning, this review aims to provide insight on the efficacy of the traditional habituation method in comparison to the fear tolerance or fear acceptance methods used in exposure therapy. This paper hopes to add to the growing body of research advancing exposure methodology towards a more unified and successful framework.