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Medicine Science

Dissecting the Neural Circuitry of Fear 123

al0ha writes "Fear begins in your brain, and it is there — specifically in an almond-shaped structure called the amygdala — that it is controlled, processed, and let out of the gate to kick off the rest of the fear response. In this week's issue of the journal Nature, a research team led by scientists at the California Institute of Technology has taken an important step toward understanding just how this kickoff occurs by beginning to dissect the neural circuitry of fear. In their paper (abstract), these scientists ... describe a microcircuit in the amygdala that controls, or 'gates,' the outflow of fear from that region of the brain. The microcircuit in question, [Professor David J. Anderson] explains, contains two subtypes of neurons that are antagonistic — have opposing functions — and that control the level of fear output from the amygdala by acting like a seesaw. 'Imagine that one end of a seesaw is weighted and normally sits on a garden hose, preventing water — in this analogy, the fear impulse — from flowing through it,' says Anderson. 'When a signal that triggers a fear response arrives, it presses down on the opposite end of the seesaw, lifting the first end off the hose and allowing fear, like water, to flow.' Once the flow of fear has begun, that impulse can be transmitted to other regions of the brain that control fearful behavior, such as freezing in place."
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Dissecting the Neural Circuitry of Fear

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  • Re:Remove it! (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Monkeedude1212 ( 1560403 ) on Friday November 12, 2010 @12:55PM (#34207932) Journal

    Fear is necessary to function in all levels of society - not just fear of death. I need to fear losing my job in order to keep me from yelling at my boss. I need to fear the slap of a women before I drop the worst pickup lines of the century. I need to fear the reprocussions of the law before I go rob a bank.

    A "Fearless" person would have no place in our world. Sometimes it is fear which drives us to do the right course of action.

  • Re:Remove it! (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday November 12, 2010 @01:01PM (#34208028)

    Indeed, it has been shown that many serial killers have a lower or muted sense of fear (startle response, etc).

    Also, ask a bipolar person about the stupid shit they do in their mania state (which can override emotions like fear).

    I once took an SSRI antidepressant and it removed nearly all emotion from me, including fear. It was unpleasant and extraordinarily dangerous to say the least.

  • Re:Remove it! (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday November 12, 2010 @01:17PM (#34208194)
    Did you mean "stop insubordination"? If yes, you should read about "Miligrams Experiment"
  • Fear is good. Fear is healthy. Fear keeps you alive. A person without fear would rapidly become dead, as there would be nothing preventing them from taking crazy risks. And if you say someone can make a rational appraisal of risks, I am telling that a person doing such a rational appraisal will wander into traffic in their fearlessness while they are doing their cognitive calculations.

    When people identify fear as a negative impulse, they are actually complaining about things that stupid people fear, which are usually artificial constructs, and are usually controlled by fearmongering demagogues spreading propaganda for political purposes. Yes, this is wrong, but fear is only a piece of that puzzle, and not even the lynchpin.

    Fear itself is not wrong, only what stupid people fear is wrong. I have fears in my life, and I'm glad I do. It keeps me alive, it even motivates me. It would be a shame to disregard such potent neural circuitry just because of some political hangups that have nothing to do with you.

  • by seven of five ( 578993 ) on Friday November 12, 2010 @03:12PM (#34209634)
    As someone who's struggled for decades with irrational and useless phobias, I really wish my fear had an off-switch. I would've gotten a lot more enjoyment out of life, and saved a lot in therapy bills and medications. It's an adaptation that kept our ancestors alive, but now it's mostly baggage.
  • by bar-agent ( 698856 ) on Friday November 12, 2010 @03:58PM (#34210174)

    Fear is good. Fear is healthy. Fear keeps you alive. ... Fear itself is not wrong, only what stupid people fear is wrong. I have fears in my life, and I'm glad I do.

    Yes. The litany the GP posted, below, is not about denying fear, but rather about keeping control when the fear instinct would get you killed. Paul Atreides was being tested. He had to keep his hand in the box even though it felt like his hand was being burned/shredded/destroyed; if he removed his hand, he'd get stuck with the poisoned needle and die. He knew (or could figure out) that his hand was not actually being destroyed. The litany was to clear away the unnecessary fear of losing his hand, so that he could concentrate on dealing with the pain and keeping his hand in place.

    I must not fear.
    Fear is the mind-killer.
    Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.

"Well, social relevance is a schtick, like mysteries, social relevance, science fiction..." -- Art Spiegelman