Summer Update #5–Filling in the Gaps

Hi all! My focus this week has been on filling the gaps that I have in my piece as of now. It was really easy to write about the aspects of my project that I had a lot of background knowledge about, but I as I went back through, I found that pieces of my narrative that left a lot to be desired. A major part of my thesis is about subjective fear perception. That is, what the participant says they are feeling about certain stimuli throughout the task. In a typical fear conditioning paradigm, the participant should not rate any stimuli as fear-inducing until a stimulus has been paired with an aversive stimulus. Then, during the extinction phase, when the conditioned stimulus is repeatedly presented without the aversive stimulus, the participant should stop rating the conditioned stimulus as fear-inducing. These ratings are useful for numerous aspects of fear conditioning research. For one, they tell us whether or not people are responding to the task in an anticipated way. For example, if no one is rating the conditioned stimulus as fearful, it may mean that the aversive stimulus is not perceived as aversive/fear-inducing. It is important to validate that many of the participants are reacting as expected or the experiment may not be measuring what it is intended to. These ratings are particularly useful for my project because I can use statistical modeling to compare participant’s fear ratings with indices of early life stress (ELS). In other words, I can use this data to look at the relationship between ELS and participant’s fear during the task. While I had some interesting findings, I wasn’t sure what to do with them because there is not much literature regarding ELS and subjective fear responses during a conditioning task. However, after a few hours of digging, I found a few related papers that had looked at this phenomenon. It turns out that as one might expect, people who have anxiety or stress-related disorders such as PTSD tend to be more fearful during all aspects of a fear learning task. Intuitively this makes sense, but it was important to find literature that reported this to be able to include in my writing. Although this was only one part of my “gap-filling,” it was a validating experience to delve in and really learn about why people respond the way that they do and what it means when they don’t respond in ways that one might expect! The rest of the week I  plan to continue the process of identifying and filling in other weak spots in my work so far. Working inside this week has been significantly more palatable because it has been 90-100 degrees outside every day! Next week I plan on continuing the writing process by starting on the next section of my thesis!

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