Saturday, February 9, 2013


Science meets an obstacle:
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.

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.
Science formulates a response:
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.

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.


Anonymous said...

SM. Hmmmm. come on. they knew just how much energy would be released. some of the "more challenged" physicists thought it would create a world-wide chain reaction. dummy's. I bet If we cranked it up to, say 65% someone just might piss themselves...SM!

ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© said...

I remember being blinded by science.

Anonymous said...

and that makes you the bravest one of all

Anonymous said...

I hope the defense dept. is funding these studies. what if we took new recruits and damaged their amydigliaglioms. wouldn't they be more helpful in "getting the job done"?

Smut Clyde said...

I hope they are funding science fiction novelists to write books along those lines.

The current state of theory among facial-emotion researchers is that the core problem for S.W. (and a few other similarly affected people) is gaze fixation. The amygdala seems to contain the circuitry for the specialised task of "looking at someone else's eyes". Most of us pay close attention to other people's eyes -- where they're looking, whether they're wide-open in fear or surprise -- but not S.W. So she has gone through life from childhood onwards blithely oblivious to signals of danger.

Anonymous said...

the gift of fear. that must be why babies, human or otherwise have big eyes. to cute to eat/beat, whatever. personally when I see someone across a crowded room I show my teeth. take a fukkin picture

Big Bad Bald Bastard said...

No fear, eh? She'd never make it as a "Townhall" columnist.

wiley said...

Yeah, smut. Since the amygdala is about a lot more than fear, I'm curious what else she doesn't exhibit.

OBS said...

2 things: fear and surprise... and a ruthless efficiency.

no, 3 things: fear, surprise, ruthless efficiency... and an almost fanatical devotion to the pope..

I'll come in again...