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Fearless Woman

January 10, 2011

Researchers are studying a woman who lacks fear in order to help those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.


The fearless woman …I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Having a healthy sense of fear protects us from potentially dangerous situations. But a woman who researchers refer to as “SM” feels no fear at all. A rare congenital condition damaged the amygdala region of her brain, which is involved in emotional memory. University of Iowa clinical neuropsychologist Justin Feinstein says she finds horror movies and haunted houses fascinating rather than scary. And in an exotic pet store, she went right up to snakes and tarantulas and started touching them.

JUSTIN FEINSTEIN (University of Iowa):
This is someone who’s unable to detect danger in the world, and because of this puts herself in harms way time and time again.

He says understanding SM’s condition could help identify therapies and medications which could dampen the fear response in people with post-traumatic stress, which is characterized by an hyperactive amygdala. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.