Date of Award

August 2021

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



First Advisor

Christine L Larson

Committee Members

Krista Lisdahl, Deborah Hannula, Hanjoo Lee, David Osmon


7T, anxiety, fear conditioning, fear generalization, fMRI


Fear generalization - the tendency to interpret ambiguous stimuli as threatening due to perceptual similarity to a learned threat – is an adaptive process. Overgeneralization, however, is maladaptive and has been implicated in a number of anxiety disorders. Neuroimaging research has indicated several regions sensitive to effects of generalization, including regions involved in fear excitation (e.g., amygdala, insula) and inhibition (e.g., ventromedial prefrontal cortex). Research has suggested several other small brain regions may play an important role in this process (e.g., hippocampal subfields, bed nucleus of the stria terminalis [BNST], habenula), but, to date, these regions have not been examined during fear generalization due to limited spatial resolution of standard human neuroimaging. To this end, the proposed project utilized high resolution spatial resolution of 7T fMRI to (1) characterize the neural circuits involved in threat discrimination and generalization, and (2) examine modulating effects of trait anxiety and intolerance of uncertainty on neural activation during threat generalization. In a sample of 31 healthy undergraduate students, significant positive generalization effects (i.e., greater activation for stimuli with increasing perceptual similarity to a learned threat cue) were observed in the visual cortex, thalamus, habenula and BNST, while negative generalization effects were observed in the dentate gyrus, CA1, CA3, and basal nucleus of the amygdala. Associations with individual differences were limited, though greater generalization in the insula and primary somatosensory cortex was correlated with self-reported anxiety. Overall, findings largely support previous neuroimaging work on fear generalization and provide additional insight into the contributions of several previously unexplored brain regions.