Psychologists study how application of cortisol affects exposure therapy for anxiety disorders

Bochum-based psychologists have studied how the application of the stress hormone cortisol affects exposure therapy for anxiety disorders. The researchers knew from earlier studies that extinction learning, which constitutes the foundation of exposure therapy, can be reinforced by administering cortisol. However, the team headed by Professor Armin Zlomuzica at Zentrum für Psychotherapie (psychotherapy center) at Ruhr-Universität Bochum (RUB) has demonstrated with a group of arachnophobics that an application of cortisol after exposure is not beneficial for the patients. Rubin, the RUB's science magazine, reports about the results which were also published in the scientific journal Psychoneuroendocrinology. "Various studies have shown that extinction can be accelerated or reinforced in healthy individuals by administering the stress hormone cortisol," says Armin Zlomuzica. In these studies, patients always took cortisol prior to the therapy. The team from Bochum has now tested what happens if the drug is administered after exposure to the triggering object. The idea was that they would be able to use the pharmaceutical agent after successful exposure, thus reinforcing only the positive therapy outcomes.

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