New way to recondition brain to fight fear

24th Nov 2016

Scientists at the University of Cambridge, have found a new simple method if curing people of their phobias - paying them.

Using modest financial rewards, brain imaging equipment and an algorithm, participants subconsciously reduced fear levels. This method is known as decoded neurofeedback; and is being suggested to be used instead of aversion therapy.

In the study, 17 participants were used and were administered brief electric shocks while being shown a certain image. While this was going on, artificial intelligence software taught itself to recognise the 'fear memory' from certain patterns of brain activity. Once this pattern was found, the participants were no longer given the electric shocks. 

Before the trial, the subjects were told that the monetary reward depended on their brain activity, but not how. Every time the particular pattern of brain activity was detected, the volunteers were given some money. 

At the end of the trial, they were shown the pictures previously associated with electric shocks. They found that they no longer showed typical fear responses, nor was there enhanced activity in the amygdala (the brain's fear centre). 

These results meant they were able to reduce the fear memory without the volunteers ever consciously experiencing the fear memory in the process.

They believe decoded neurofeedback could also provide a means of treating PTSD, however further research is needed to be conducted.

To read more, please visit Nature Human Behaviour website

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