Horror Movie Scenes Help Map Brain Areas Involved In Fear Processing

Posted: Feb 9 2017, 3:30pm CST | by , Updated: Feb 9 2017, 3:35pm CST, in News | Latest Science News

 

Horror Movie Scenes Help Map Brain Areas Involved in Fear Processing
Credit: Paramount Pictures
 

New study identifies a key neural pathway in humans that explains how the brain processes feelings of fear and anxiety

What goes on in your mind when you are frightened?  

Understanding how the human brain processes fear has been a topic of intense scientific research for years. Previous studies have used different stimulus to determine the areas of brain that are involved in fear processing. This time around, researchers have identified a new neural pathway in humans by using scenes from horror movies.

The pathway may hold the key to understanding how brain processes feelings of fear and anxiety and this information is highly relevant for the prevention of fear-related disorders.

Responding to fear involves many parts of the brain but if any single brain structure can be taken as a key performer in the processing of the emotion, it’s the amygdala - an almond-shape set of neurons located deep in the brain's medial temporal lobe.

For the study, researchers inserted electrodes into the amygdala and hippocampus of nine participants and recorded their neural activity as they watch scenes from horror movies to induce fear. Researchers found that two regions, located deep in the center of the brain were directly responding to the fear stimuli.

“Deep brain electrodes capture neurons firing millisecond by millisecond, revealing in real time how the brain attends to fearful stimuli. In fact, neurons in the amygdala fired 120 milliseconds earlier than the hippocampus. It is truly remarkable that we can measure the brain dynamics with such precision,” said lead author Jie Zheng from University of California, Irvine.

“Further, the traffic pattern between the two brain regions are controlled by the emotion of the movie; a unidirectional flow of information from the amygdala to the hippocampus only occurred when people were watching fearful movie clips but not while watching peaceful scenes.”

This is the first study to demonstrate the mechanism by which human brain processes fear at the circuitry level. The study elaborates the roles of the roles of the amygdala and hippocampus in emotional processing and how these two brain regions interact after the recognition of a fearful stimulus. Researchers have found a direct evidence of amygdala’s receiving the information and then sending it to hippocampus for further processing.

How fearful experiences are processed in brain can influence the further course and development of anxiety and other mental health disorders.

“This has huge implications for treating neuropsychiatric disorders. For example, current drugs available to treat anxiety disorder bind to large areas of the brain, leading to unwanted side effects,” said co-researcher Dr. Jack Lin.

“Our hope is that we will one day be able to target and manipulate the precise amygdala-hippocampal circuit involved in processing negative emotions while preserving positive ones. This study brings the promise of targeted therapy a step closer."

 

 

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Hira Bashir covers daily affairs around the world.

 

 

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