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Tarantulas help researchers find fear in the human brain

The human brain may respond differently to threats based on proximity, trajectory, and expectations, according to a study by Cambridge Neuroscientists working with tarantulas and published this week in PNAS.

Cambridge Neuroscientists from the MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit and the Department of Clinical Neurosciences collaborated to use functional magnetic resonance imaging, or fMRI, to observe brain activity in 20 human study participants while the subjects watched what they believed to be live video of a tarantula placed near the participant's foot. Though the video actually showed previously recorded films, the subjects believed that the spider was real and placed into one of six compartments that the researchers manipulated to entice the spider to move toward or away from the subject. Participants reported their expected and actual fear experiences throughout the experiment. The results suggest, according to the authors, that different components of the brain's "fear network" serve specific threat-response functions - information which may help researchers diagnose and treat patients who suffer from clinical phobias.

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Neural activity associated with monitoring the oscillating threat value of a tarantula, Dean Mobbs,Rongjun Yua, James B. Rowe, Hannah Eicha, Oriel FeldmanHalla, and Tim Dalgleish, Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2010 Nov 8. [Epub ahead of print]

Posted on 08/11/2010

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