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Fearless Humans: Experts Can Now Erase Specific Fear Inside The Brain, Study Reveals

First Posted: Nov 22, 2016 04:50 AM EST

For many, fear is one of the worst emotion people can have. There are lots of categories under fear. Some may have overcome it but some cannot. Now, researchers may have just invented a process on how to cast away the fear without even trying to face it.

Through volunteers, the experts manipulate their brain activity. The researchers were able to create and then erase a conditioned fear response. The catch would be the subjects do not even know what was happening.

In the process, the researchers first inserted the conditioned fear response into the 17 participants. They have to go through "uncomfortable, but tolerable electrical shocks" when they saw a specific image on the screen. With the use of FMRI or functional magnetic resonance, the research team was able to measure the volunteer's brain activity while they study to associate it with visual stimulus with the fear of being shocked, according to IFL Science.

They then focused on particular brain regions such as the ventral medial prefrontal cortex and the amygdala. Both of the regions have the important responsibility in encoding memories of fear.

The study authors show how the process enabled them to point out specific patterns of the brain activity that coincided to the newly conditioned fear. They then ready the volunteers to erase it by overwriting these neural patterns. The study was published in the journal Nature Human Behavior.

Ben Seymour, co-author of the study, said that "we realized that even when the volunteers were simply resting, we could see brief moments when the pattern of fluctuating brain activity had partial features of the specific fear memory, even though the volunteers weren't consciously aware of it. Because we could decode these brain patterns quickly, we decided to give subjects a reward - a small amount of money - every time we picked up these features of the memory."

The whole process was developed subconsciously. The neural patterns that once have encoded fear soon became linked with reward. However, the volunteers stay completely not aware of what were the experts doing inside their heads.

Ai Koizumi, a co-researcher, shared that, "In effect, the features of the memory that were previously tuned to predict the painful shock, were now being re-programmed to predict something positive instead," according to EurekAlert.

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