[not in handout, see intranet]

Brewin, C. R. (2006). Understanding cognitive behaviour therapy: A retrieval competition account. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 44(6), 765-784.

Principles of behaviour and cognitive therapy

Behaviour therapy

According to the associationist perspective, the behaviour of persistently anxious people is guided by rules automatically abstracted from threatening experiences using principles such as contiguity, contingency, and similarity.


Exposure, which remains a central part of treatment for phobias, PTSD, and OCD, has traditionally been regarded as an example of associative learning in that it attempts to produce new patterns and regularities involving the same elements that were part of the fear-inducing experience. Contemporary cognitive theorists (e.g. Evans, 2004....) similarly describe a type of reasoning that is associative and automatic, making use of basic principles such as the similarity between elements or the closeness of two elements in time.

The most influential recent formulation of how the memories of phobic patients are changed was put forward by Foa and Kozak (1986), who proposed that confronting the patient with their feared situation, whether in imagination or in vivo, first activated the memory, resulting in the experience of fear.

Another source of understanding the changes in underlying representations brought about by exposure comes from animal models of aversive learning. Conditioned fear reactions to a stimulus are produced which can then be extinguished by re-presenting the stimulus to the animal numerous times in the absence of the noxious experience. Initially it was thought that extinction was a form of unlearning...........

The implication drawn by these researchers is that during extinction the original associations are not being unlearned but that the animal is acquiring new learning which can under certain conditions take precedence over the original memories.