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Do We Ever Overcome Fear?

Do We Ever Overcome Fear?Although fear is a natural emotion, it can become detrimental. Researchers are using computer simulations to understand the processes within the brain during the formation and extinction of fears.

In the current issue of the scientific journal PLoS Computational Biology, Ioannis Vlachos and colleagues propose an explanation for how fears that were seemingly overcome are in reality only hidden.

The reason for the persistency of fears is that, literally, their roots run deep: Far below the cerebral cortex, the amygdala plays a crucial role in fear processes.

Fear is commonly investigated in mice by exposing them simultaneously to a neutral stimulus — a certain sound, for example — and an unpleasant one. This leads to the animals being frightened of the sound as well.

According to researchers, context plays an important role in this case: If the scaring sound is played repeatedly in a new context without anything bad happening, the mice shed their fear again. It returns immediately, however, if the sound is presented in the original, or even a completely novel context. Had the mice not unlearned to be frightened after all?

The fact that fears can be “masked” has been known for some time.

Recently, two co-authors of the present study discovered that two groups of nerve cells within the amygdala are involved in this process. By creating a model of the amygdala’s neuronal network, doctoral candidate Ioannis Vlachos and colleagues were able to find an explanation for how such a masking of fears is implemented in the brain: One group of cells is responsible for the fear response, the second for its suppression.

Activity of the latter inhibits the former and, thus, prevents fear signals to be transmitted to other parts of the brain. Nevertheless, the change in their connections that resulted in an increased activity in the fear-coding neurons in the first place is still present.

As soon as the masking by the fear-suppressing neurons disappears, for example by changing the context, these connections come into action again — the fear returns.

According to the scientists, these insights can be transferred to us humans, helping to treat fears more successfully in the future.

Source: Albert-Ludwigs-Universit├Ąt Freiburg

Do We Ever Overcome Fear?

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2015). Do We Ever Overcome Fear?. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 22, 2018, from https://psychcentral.com/news/2011/03/21/do-we-ever-overcome-fear/24524.html

 

Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 6 Oct 2015
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 6 Oct 2015
Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.