The brain's "fear hub.": image via nimh.nih.gov Millions of people throughout the world suffer from all kinds of phobias- fears of heights, crowded or enclosed spaces, snakes, spiders, etc. - that are traditionally treated behaviorally, with some support from anti-anxiety medications. But now, researchers at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel suggest the possibility of a pharmaceutical manipulation of the brain that would make cowards into heroes.
In several prior studies, it has been demonstrated that those subjected to highly stressful environments and situations - such as, soldiers subjected to concentration camp simulations - physiologically expressed fear and stress through a release of the hormone cortisol. Those who responded more calmly to the stress produced less cortisol and produced more of a compound that counteracts the effects of cortisol, neuropeptide Y.
Now, Dr. Yadin Dudai, head of the recent Weizman study, has pinpointed the area of the brain that is vital in overcoming fear. By scanning the brains of volunteers with and without fear of snakes - ophidiophobia, Dr. Dudai observed the exact area in the subgenual anterior cingulate cortex responsible for bravery.
The subjects controlled their own exposure to a live snake placed on a conveyor belt running in front of them, through a button that would bring the snake closer or further away. A subject demonstrated bravery by moving the snake physically closer to him. The closer the the subject moved the snake towards him, the more the subgenual anterior cingulate cortex was involved, lighting up when those with fear of snakes showed bravery.
Dr. Dudai believes that bravery might be controlled by manipulating the brain through a target-specific medication - a finding that has raised the interests of the U.S. military who would love to turn their recruits into heroes, using "the right cocktail of supplements, steroids, and mind exercises."
via Daily Mail