Social Fear Conditioning as an Animal Model of Social Anxiety Disorder

Iulia Toth1, Inga D. Neumann1, David A. Slattery1

1 Department of Behavioural and Molecular Neurobiology, University of Regensburg, Regensburg, Germany
Publication Name:  Current Protocols in Neuroscience
Unit Number:  Unit 9.42
DOI:  10.1002/0471142301.ns0942s63
Online Posting Date:  April, 2013
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Social fear and avoidance of social situations represent the main behavioral symptoms of social anxiety disorder (SAD), a disorder that is poorly elucidated and has rather unsatisfactory therapeutic options. Therefore, animal models are needed to study the underlying etiology of the disorder and possible novel treatment approaches. However, the current paradigms modeling SAD‐like symptoms in rodents are not specific, as they induce numerous other behavioral deficits in addition to social fear and avoidance. Here, we describe the protocol for the social fear conditioning paradigm, an animal model of SAD that specifically induces social fear of unfamiliar con‐specifics without potentially confounding alterations in other behavioral measures. Theoretical and practical considerations for performing the social fear conditioning paradigm in both rats and mice, as well as for the analysis and interpretation of the obtained data, are described in detail. Curr. Protoc. Neurosci. 63:9.42.1‐9.42.13. © 2013 by John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Keywords: social investigation; social fear; social avoidance; mice; rats

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Table of Contents

  • Introduction
  • Basic Protocol 1: Social Fear Conditioning, Extinction, and Extinction Recall
  • Commentary
  • Literature Cited
  • Figures
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Basic Protocol 1: Social Fear Conditioning, Extinction, and Extinction Recall

  • Experimental animals: male or female rats or mice, typically 8 to 12 weeks of age, unless otherwise wished
  • Stimulus animals: same species, strain, sex, age, and weight as experimental animals (see annotation to step 1)
  • Two different‐smelling detergents or cleaning solutions (designate as “detergent number 1” and “detergent number 2”)
  • Standard cages with bedding for single‐ or group‐housing of animals
  • Experimental room with controlled temperature (22° to 24°C) and humidity (60% to 70%) and 12‐hr light/dark cycle (see annotation to step 1)
  • Balance to weigh animals
  • Transparent observation cages with bedding: for mice, ∼30 × 25 × 35 cm; for rats, ∼55 × 35 × 35 cm (see Fig. and annotation to step 2)
  • Stimulus cages, i.e., wire mesh cages or plastic cages with large perforations for encaging stimulus animals: for mice, ∼7 × 7 × 6 cm; for rats, ∼20 × 10 × 9 cm (see Fig. and annotation to step 3)
  • Conditioning room (where the computerized fear conditioning system is located), which should be close to the experimental room
  • Conditioning box with a video camera that allows visualization and recording of the experiment (see Fig. and annotation preceding step 4)
  • Computerized fear conditioning system that allows manual administration of foot shocks (e.g., TSE Systems)
  • Video cameras with tripod (for experiments performed in the dark phase, video cameras with night‐shot or an infrared camera and source)
  • Stopwatches (1 for each animal tested in parallel per day)
  • Behavioral analysis program that allows scoring several behaviors at a time, e.g., JWatcher ( or EventLog (
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Literature Cited

Literature Cited
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