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Brain Dread

May 31, 2006

A new study looks at that sinking feeling we call dread.


Watching dread in action. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

For some people, dread may be worse than physical pain. Emory University psychiatrist Gregory Berns and his colleagues discovered this while studying brain scans of people dreading mild electric shocks. In their experiment, areas of the brain involved in paying attention to pain lit up not just during the shock itself, but also while subjects were waiting for the next one. People who experienced this activation earlier and more strongly would actually accept a more painful shock just to get it over with quicker.

GREOGORY BERNS (Emory University):
It’s that response, I think that’s driving people’s behavior, to in this case, I think act somewhat irrationally, by taking a larger shock to avoid waiting.

So dread may play a bigger role than once thought in how people make decisions, from investing in the stock market to seeking medical treatment. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.