Impaired Extinction, Persistent Avoidance and Excessive Generalization in Human Fear Conditioning

Katholieke Universiteit Leuven


July 11, 2021


Impaired Extinction, Persistent Avoidance and Excessive Generalization in

Human Fear Conditioning

(ref. BAP-2021-440)

Last modification : Monday, June 7, 2021

The EAGER project unites members from the Learning and Experimental Psychopathology group (CLEP) and the Laboratory of Biological Psychology (LBP) at KU Leuven. Collectively, the consortium offers an internationally oriented, productive, collaborative, and multi-disciplinary environment involving 4 PIs (Prof. Dirk Hermans, Prof. Tom Beckers, Dr. Laura Luyten and Prof. Bram Vervliet) and over 20 other research staff. Research at CLEP and LBP is characterized by a translational perspective (rodents, healthy humans, clinical populations) and aims to unravel behavioral and brain mechanisms underlying normal and abnormal psychological functioning. Of relevance for the current project, the consortium disposes of state-of-the-art facilities for behavioral neuroscience investigations of learning and memory in rodents and humans. Expertise in the consortium provides for a unique combination of conceptual, methodological and clinical skills in the area of affective behavioral (neuro)science. The project is based at KU Leuven, a research- oriented institution that is consistently ranked among the top research universities in Europe. It is located in the center of the historic town of Leuven, home to the university since 1425. About 30 km from Brussels and two hours away from Paris, London and Amsterdam, it has a strong international appeal. It also has a rich history and a unique friendly atmosphere, with a great range of museums, concert halls and other cultural hot spots. The cost of living in Leuven is moderate by international standards; the quality of living is excellent. For more information, visit https:// www.

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In the past decades, considerable research effort has been devoted to documenting and understanding elementary features of fear learning and how they might might be involved in the development of anxiety, through research in animals, healthy humans and patients. This work has revealed the critical roles of extinction deficits, excessive generalization and persistent avoidance in anxious psychopathology. So far, however, extinction, avoidance and generalization have been studied mostly in isolation. In the EAGER project, we aim to chart the interaction and causal interdependence of these three phenomena and the factors that cause their dysregulation. Through concerted studies in animals, healthy human volunteers and clinical populations, we hope to achieve a more thorough understanding of the development and treatment of anxiety and mood disorders.


The student to be hired for the present position will be investigating the EAGER framework through experimental studies in humans with an emphasis on psychophysiological measurements and psychobiological manipulations. If you tick most of the following boxes, we hope you'll apply:

  • You are a science enthusiast who obtained (or is on the verge of obtaining) a master's degree in psychology, (behavioural or cognitive) neuroscience, or a related discipline (ultimate date of graduation: October 1st, 2021)

  • You have at least some initial experience in doing human behavioral research, preferably involving psychophysiological measurements or fear conditioning procedures

  • You have a keen interest in mechanisms of learning and memory and/or (an experimental approach to) psychopathology
  • You have excellent communicative skills in English (both orally and in academic writing)
  • You are committed to principles of open and replicable science
  • Further indispensable assets are an inquisitive and creative mind, good problem solving skills and a collaborative and collegial attitude
  • Offer

    We offer a fully funded, full time PhD position in a 4-year research project (initial 1-year position with 3-year extension upon satisfactory performance), embedded in a supportive research environment. Supervisors are Prof. Tom Beckers (CLEP) and Prof. Bram Vervliet (LBP). Salary and benefits are in accordance with the university salary scales for PhD students and highly competitive by international standards. When applying, please include a letter of motivation and the names and contact details of two references.


    For more information please contact Prof. dr. Tom Beckers, tel.: +32 16 32 61 34, mail: or Prof. dr. Bram Vervliet, tel.: +32 16 32 61 17, mail:

    KU Leuven seeks to foster an environment where all talents can flourish, regardless of gender, age, cultural background, nationality or impairments. If you have any questions relating to accessibility or support, please contact us at