June 11, 2012
Peoples’ brain activity changes permanently when they overcome a phobia.
BOB HIRSHON (host):
Arachnophobia and the brain… I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.
A fear of spiders can be terrifying, but with exposure therapy it can be overcome in just a few hours. A new study reports that changes to the brain’s fear response remain long after the phobia is conquered. Northwestern University scientist Katherina Hauner conducted the research. She had volunteers with severe arachnophobia view pictures of spiders, look at live specimens in a terrarium, and hold a tarantula in their hands. Areas of the brain normally associated with fear were very active at the beginning, but once the volunteers learned how to control their irrational beliefs about the animals, these regions calmed down.
KATHERINA HAUNER (Northwestern University):
And these areas stayed less active 6 months later. Some of the brain changes are permanent in terms of reorganizing how the brain responds to the situation that was originally very fear-inducing.
Hauner adds that many specific phobias can be treated just as quickly. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.