The high evolutionary value of learning when to respond to threats or when to inhibit previously learned associations after changing threat contingencies is reflected in dedicated networks in the animal and human brain. Recent evidence further suggests that adaptive learning may be dependent on the dynamic interaction of meta-stable functional brain networks. However, it is still unclear which functional brain networks compete with each other to facilitate associative learning and how changes in threat contingencies affect this competition. The aim of this study was to assess the dynamic competition between large-scale networks related to associative learning in the human brain by combining a repeated differential conditioning and extinction paradigm with independent component analysis of functional magnetic resonance imaging data. The results (i) identify three task-related networks involved in initial and sustained conditioning as well as extinction, and demonstrate that (ii) the two main networks that underlie sustained conditioning and extinction are anti-correlated with each other and (iii) the dynamic competition between these two networks is modulated in response to changes in associative contingencies. These findings provide novel evidence for the view that dynamic competition between large-scale functional networks differentiates fear conditioning from extinction learning in the healthy brain and suggest that dysfunctional network dynamics might contribute to learning-related neuropsychiatric disorders.
- Associative learning
- Dynamic connectivity