Fear protects us from danger, but when its too much, it can cause serious psychological discomfort and, in some cases, mental health problems. A new study by American scientists reveals a scheme in the brain associated with processing fear, which ultimately can raise a new level of treatment of people with anxiety disorders.
Don’t get caught up in the stress
Recently in the journal Nature Communications published the results of research scientists of the University of California Irvine (USA), which investigated how the different areas of the brain involved in the fear response.
From an evolutionary point of view, fear and anxiety very useful. These deep-rooted emotions from being used to protect our ancestors from predators, and in our time the reaction is “fight or flight” continues to be a healthy response to a dangerous situation.
When the fear proportional to the risk in which the person is a normal, adaptive reaction. However, some people exhibit exaggerated reactions to stressful situations, and when the fear response lasts much longer than would normally be expected from a situation to such an extent that it interferes with the well-being and daily functioning of a person, such a reaction is classified as an anxiety disorder.
As part of the architecture of the human brain similar to other mammals, and we demonstrate similar reactions to fear, the study of animal models has provided scientists with important information about the neurophysiological basis for the treatment of fear. Earlier studies on animals showed that the amygdala is a key player in processing fear, and that the hippocampus also plays an important role in the formation of memories of emotional events. However, American researchers believe that the issue of the interplay between these two areas in the presence of the stimulus of fear, has not been studied.
A substantial body of research has revealed that we can indeed influence and improve the way our brains function on many levels. Several factors contribute to how the brain alters and adapts as we age. We can encourage positive changes by using some of the same strategies we depend on for our physical health, while adding on activities designed for brain health. You can check for more about the A Mind For All Seasons support for your brain health.
The brain has a wonderful plasticity, continually creating new connections and pathways in the maze of neurons that bundled together create our ability to think, reason, remember and react to new challenges, information and experiences. Most of these changes occur naturally, beneath the level of our conscious mind, at the subconscious and unconscious level.
So a group of scientists led by neuroscience Professor Jack Lin decided to explore the neural pathways associated with processing of fear and anxiety in humans.
The researchers surgically introduced electrodes into the amygdala and hippocampus of the nine participants in the experiment, and asked them to watch scenes from horror movies. Participants in the study suffer from one form of drug-resistant epilepsy and the introduction of the electrodes was carried out as part of the clinical assessment of their activity. Scientists have assured that the electrode implanted only in accordance with the clinical needs of patients.
The exact fear
Lin and the team recorded the activity of neurons in participants. As explained by one of the authors of the study Jie Zheng, “deep brain electrodes capture neurons, showing in real-time, millisecond for millisecond, like fear flashes in the brain”.
Amygdala located in the brain near the hypothalamus, which acts as the main center of emotions, emotional behavior and motivation. Amygdala with the hypothalamus and the hippocampus forms the limbic system of the brain that deals with memory and emotion.
The study discovered that the amygdala and the hippocampus directly exchange signals, when people recognize emotional stimuli.
In addition, the structure of the traffic between these two areas of the brain controlled the emotions of the film. Unidirectional flow of information from amygdala to the hippocampus occurred only when the participants of the experiment watched a terrible video, but did not look calm and peaceful scene from the film.
The study demonstrates that the amygdala first retrieves emotional significance, and then sends this information to the hippocampus where it is processed as a memory.
Scientists explained how their research can affect the development of new methods of treatment of mental disorders:
“This is the first clinical study on humans that is of great importance for the treatment of neuropsychiatric disorders. For example, drugs currently available to treat anxiety disorders, affect large areas of the brain, which leads to unwanted side effects. The study will help to influence the relationship of amygdala – hippocampus, responsible for processing negative emotions”.