• Interfering with fear memories by eye movement desensitization and reprocessing

      Jellestad, Lena; Zeffiro, Thomas; Piccirelli, Marco; Malamud, Jolanda; Klimke, Benedikt B M; Rauen, Katrin; Rufer, Michael; Orr, Scott P; Mueller-Pfeiffer, Christoph (Elsevier B.V., 2021-04-24)
      Objective: Pharmacologic and behavioral interventions that block reconsolidation of reactivated fear memory have demonstrated only limited success in modifying stronger and long-standing fear memories. Given the efficacy of Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) in treating PTSD, pursuit eye movements are a promising and novel intervention for studies of human memory reconsolidation. Here, we examined the efficacy of pursuit eye movements in interfering with reconsolidation of conditioned fear memories. Methods: We conducted a 3-day differential Pavlovian fear conditioning procedure in healthy adults, using videos of biologically prepared stimuli (tarantulas), partly reinforced with electrical shocks while recording skin conductance response (SCR) as a measure of autonomic conditioned responses. Fear conditioning was performed on Day 1. On Day 2, 38 participants were randomized into groups performing pursuit eye movements either immediately after fear memory reactivation, when the fear memory was stable, or 10 min later, when the fear memory was assumed to be more labile. On Day 3, fear memory strength was assessed by SCR to both reactivated and nonreactivated fear memories. Results: Strong differential conditioning to the spider stimuli were observed during both fear acquisition and fear memory reactivation. Reactivated fear memory conditioned responses of participants performing pursuit eye movements after a 10-min delay were significantly smaller in the reinstatement phase (0.16 μS; 95% CI [0.02, 0.31]). Conclusions: Pursuit eye movements were effective in reducing fear-conditioned SCR in reinstatement. This result supports the theoretical proposition that EMDR can interfere with reactivated fear memory reconsolidation. © 2021 The Authors