For years, SM, a 44-year-old woman, has been helping researchers study the emotion of fear. Dubbed the "woman with no fear", she suffers from a rare genetic condition known as Urbach-Wiethe disease, which in late childhood destroyed both sides of her amygdala, two almond sized structures on either side of the brain.Science formulates a response:
The condition means she is not afraid of things that strike fear in most people, such as snakes, spiders, horror films, and being attacked at knife or gunpoint.
One type of event that triggers fear and panic attacks via the amygdala brain circuit is when inhaled air has unusually high levels of carbon dioxide (CO2), a sign of possible suffocation. The brain picks this up because inhaling high levels of CO2, even at non-lethal concentrations, increases acidity of the blood.SCIENCE TRIUMPHS!
So, if the amygdala is essential for processing events that lead to fear, then people with damaged amygdalas should not get afraid by inhaling CO2.
This was the idea that Feinstein and colleagues wanted to test: especially as inhaling CO2 is a different kind of trigger to sensing external events with eyes and ears.
But when SM underwent an experiment, where she wore a mask to breathe in air enriched with 35% CO2, she had a full blown panic attack. Her body went rigid, her skin was flushed and her eyes opened wide.
I remember this time when there was this atom and the scientists just totally SMASHED IT because they were badasses.