Can’t stand the sight of anything with eight legs? New technology could cure arachnophobes as scientists have worked out how to remove specific fears from the human brain.
The team at The University of Cambridge hopes that this will be used to treat patients with PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) and replace traditional fear aversion therapies, which can be highly stressful for patients.
The study developed the technique called ‘Decoded Neurofeedback’, where volunteers had new fears installed in them and then removed again.
By administering a brief electric shock whenever the participants saw a particular image, scientists were able to monitor the brain activity that occurs when fears are established.
Once the pattern was detected, the team then overrode the fear by giving the subjects money whenever they saw the same image.
This reversal process then removed the associated fear from the brain, Dr. Ai Koizumi, said: “In effect, the features of the memory that were previously tuned to predict the painful shock, were now being re-programmed to predict something positive instead.”
To apply this to patients, the team will need to build a library of brain information codes for the variety of things that people might fear, say spiders.
Dr. Ben Seymour said: “Then, in principle, patients could have regular sessions of Decoded Neurofeedback to gradually remove the fear response these memories trigger.”
According to the study 1 in 14 people in the UK suffer with fear related disorders, placing considerable strain on mental health services.