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"Fear Factory" -- The Discovery Files

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Researchers at the University of Iowa have pinpointed the part of the brain that causes people to experience fear -- a discovery that could improve treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other anxiety conditions.

Credit: NSF/Karson Productions

Audio Transcript:

Letting Go of Fear.

I'm Bob Karson with the discovery files -- new advances in science and engineering from the National Science Foundation.

Ever see one of those "No Fear" stickers on a vehicle? It may indicate that the driver is either extremely brave and daring or that he might have an underdeveloped amygdala region of the brain.

Animal studies have shown for a long time that this almond-shaped region of the brain plays an important role in generating fear reactions in rats and monkeys. (Sound effect: monkey screech) Now researchers at the University of Iowa have put a human face on what it's like to live with no fear and for the first time, have confirmed that the amygdala is responsible for generating fear in humans.

The patient in their study had a rare condition that destroyed this particular region of the brain. Other studies showed that she could not recognize fear in facial expressions, but the new research revealed that she could not experience fear. Not from any of the usual stimuli -- (Sound effect: horror music; snake hissing) spiders, snakes, haunted houses, horror films, or even reminders of traumatic events from her past.

The researchers say that, without the amygdala, (Sound effect: alarm sound) the alarm in our brain that pushes us to avoid danger is missing.

To the 7.7 million Americans who suffer from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), or related anxiety disorders, this research could someday lead to safe, non-invasive treatments to dampen down activity of the fear-inducing part of the brain.

Kinda gives new meaning to the term, "fear factor."

"The Discovery Files" covers projects funded by the government's National Science Foundation. Federally sponsored research -- brought to you, by you! Learn more at or on our podcast.

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