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Overcoming fear – Part 3: Reduce fear by bypassing conscious exposure to fear

Overcoming fear - Part 3: Reduce fear by bypassing conscious exposure to fear

Creepy crawlers, goblins and ghosts, serpents and natural disasters can evoke some dread in people, even if the level of fear experienced is quite minuscule. While most of the people are able to overcome their fear with time, some are likely to be so much petrified by even the thought of things and activities associated with fear that they are likely to be plagued by a phobia.

When afflicted by a phobia, people usually experience irrational fears which when heightened can be felt at an intensity that causes debilitating anxiety and interferes with one’s ability to lead a normal life. Though phobias are generally known to develop during childhood, they can also develop during adulthood.

One can experience fears because of a range of reasons that include a certain place, situation or object. The repercussions of phobias comprise life-disruptive and disabling symptoms, such as difficulty in breathing, racing or pounding heart, trembling or shaking, etc.

Though one can overcome his or her fears by following a number of internal and external measures, their efficacy remains ambiguous. However, a team of researchers attempted to assist people in overcoming their fear through an innovative approach. The current article focuses on how one can expunge specific fears from the brain using artificial intelligence and brain scanning technology.

Does dodging or confrontation of fear diminishes phobia?

The general approach toward the treatment of fears and phobias involves a form of aversion therapy, which is an unpleasant behavioral therapy designed to make patients let go of an unwanted fear by confronting the problem head on. Due to the displeasing nature of this treatment, many choose to refrain from becoming a part of such a treatment, which increases the pressure on mental health service providers with regard to delivering favorable outcomes.

A team of neuroscientists from the University of Cambridge, Japan and the United States has discovered a way to unconsciously remove a fear memory from the brain through a technique called “Decoded Neurofeedback” in their study published in the journal Nature Human Behaviour.

The study involved 17 volunteers in whom a fear memory was devised by directing short bursts of electric shocks in accordance with the pictures presented on a computer screen over a span of three days. In addition, brain-scanning technology was used to record all brain activities and identify the patterns of the activity that resembled the specific fear memory.

On the detection of the brain patterns associated with the specific fear memory, investigators attempted to overwrite it by rewarding the subjects with monetary incentives. The researchers aimed hoped to unconsciously remove the fear memory with time.

The lead author of the study, Dr. Ai Koizumi, Advanced Telecommunications Research Institute International, Kyoto and Centre of Information and Neural Networks, Osaka said, “Remarkably, we could no longer see the typical fear skin-sweating response. Nor could we identify enhanced activity in the amygdala- the brain’s fear centre. This meant that we’d been able to reduce the fear memory without the volunteers ever consciously experiencing the fear memory in the process.”

On the one hand, given the sample size and duration of the study, the effectiveness of this method remains to be tested at a greater platform. On the other hand, the team of researchers is hopeful that this approach could be made a viable option for treating patients suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or phobias circumventing traditional drug-based treatment approaches.

Learn to face fears

It is natural to experience fear in perilous situations; it is, after all, a part of an array of emotions and responses to stimuli, thoughts or dangers witnessed by people. However, when a person has a phobia, he or she perceives the threat as something far greater than what it is in actual. The good news is that fear and phobias are treatable conditions.

If you or your loved one is suffering from irrational fears or specific phobias, an underlying anxiety disorder may be at play. The Anxiety Disorder Helpline assists in accessing the best anxiety disorder treatment centers that specialize in delivering holistic care supported by evidence-based intervention plans. Call us at our 24/7 helpline number 866-971-7951 or chat online with our medical representatives to know more about the anxiety disorder treatment clinics in the U.S.

Read the other articles of the series “Overcoming fear:”

Part 1: Exposure to fear unconsciously may help in beating phobia

Part 2: Psychotherapy proves to be an effective tool against social phobia