Fear Circuitry

I found this really cool article about how scientists are using fMRI scans and tarantulas to attempt to map out the brain’s fear circuitry.  A little background: approximately 1/5 of men and 1/2 of women have arachnophobia.  It is suggested by scientists that this may be an evolved predisposition, since some of the more venomous strains would have meant instant death to our ancestors.

The scientists in this study were interested in people’s reactions to both proximity and direction of movement of the threat.  They had subjects lay down in an fMRI machine with one foot extending into one of 6 compartments of an “imminence box”.  Subjects were then told which compartment the spider would enter and were asked to predict how frightened they would be when it did so.  Then they actually watched the spider go into that compartment and reported their actual fear (the spider’s moves were prerecorded, but they didn’t know that).

Along with self-report measures of fear, researchers also looked at brain scans.  If the spider was close, the amygdala was active and the prefrontal cortex was quiet.  If the spider was far away, the reverse pattern was seen.  One interesting finding was that irrespective of how far away the spider was, if it started moving towards the subject, a specific subsection of the fear network, thought to be the brain’s panic circuit, was activated.  This indicates that our brains have a specialized mechanism for determining a threat’s direction of motion.

I found this study very interesting and I think it can have important implications; providing a more detailed circuitry of the fear network may help diagnose and treat other phobias.


4 thoughts on “Fear Circuitry

  1. Very cool study. They would, however, have to pay me a lot of money to participate. My panic circuit was activated just reading about it.


  2. That’s cool. I wonder, if it is evolutionary, why women have a higher rate of fear than men? I always assumed that it was just a cultural thing and that women were able to show their fear of spiders more easily than men, but it sounds like this study could use imaging to prove otherwise.


  3. Great find!! Super interesting study! Going off of what Melissa said, I wonder if they could get similar results if someone just read or listened to a very (incredibly rather) detailed description of a spider approaching the subject and also when it was further away. Or even a video for example. I know that when I watch any video or even think of snakes it makes my skin crawl and I get the urge to lift my feet up to escape the long slithering menace, ugh!


  4. I like this article a lot too, it would be super cool if they could map the circuitry of fear. I also wonder if this would actually help diagnose phobia, because don’t most people who have arachnophobia KNOW that they are petrified of spiders? Is it possible to have the heightened fear circuitry associated with the disease without the associated external exhibition of fear? It would however be helpful in assisting those with this phobia. I also wonder if the occurrence of arachnophobia is decreasing as the eminent threat decreases? aka not very many people encounter tarantulas anymore?


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s