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Study maps how brain processes fear

By Sravanth Verma     Oct 5, 2014 in Health
A study published in the journal Brain and Cognition, coming from the Center for BrainHealth at The University of Texas at Dallas shows how brain activity occurs when a subject experiences fear.
"We are trying to find where thought exists in the mind," said John Hart, Medical Science Director at center. "We know that groups of neurons firing on and off create a frequency and pattern that tell other areas of the brain what to do. By identifying these rhythms, we can correlate them with a cognitive unit such as fear," he said.
The study will help in the treatment of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which affects an estimated eight percent of Americans some time during their lifetime. Though both western and eastern medical systems have traditionally known that the brain is what initiates fear, the current study looks at how threat is processed differently within a normal brain as compared to a PTSD affected brain. This will help medical professionals create more effective interventions for PTSD patients.
The study included 19 women and seven men between the ages of 19 and 30, who were shown images of two types, real photos, and scrambled images that were not identifiable. The images were shown in random order. Among the real images, there were two kinds: threatening images such as animals, weapons and war, and non-threatening images such as food, pleasant activities, nature and animals.
The research team used electroencephalography (EEG) to look at theta and beta wave activity, which would signify the brains reaction to images that are threatening. "Theta wave activity starts in the back of the brain, in it's fear center — the amygdala — and then interacts with brain's memory center — the hippocampus," says lead author of the paper Bambi DeLaRosa. "Beta wave activity indicates that the motor cortex is revving up in case the feet need to move to avoid the perceived threat."
Threatening images led to an rise in theta activity in the occipital lobe in the brain, which is responsible for processing visuals. Then, there was a rise in theta activity in the frontal lobe, where decisions, planning and thinking occur within the brain.
This is not the center's first study mapping brain activity. They have earlier mapped the brain activity of risk-taking individuals, in attempt to see how the brains of such individuals work differently.
More about Fear, Neurology, Human brain