Where Fear Lives

Study finds brain area that stores unconscious dread

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WEDNESDAY, Dec. 15, 2004 (HealthDayNews) -- Researchers have found the specific area of the brain that stores your unconscious fears.

A team at the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons pinpointed a specific region of the amygdala, an almond-shaped structure deep in the brain that encodes the emotional content of memories. The amygdala's influence on this emotional encoding can, for example, determine the degree to which a memory of emotional trauma is imprinted on the brain.

Not only does this study provide important information about an area of the brain that processes frightening events, it also may offer a method of measuring the success of treatments for anxiety disorders.

The researchers used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to scan the brains of volunteers who were shown images of fearful faces.

"These findings provide a biological basis for the unconscious emotional vigilance characteristic of normal and pathological anxiety, as well as a new means for investigating the mechanisms and efficacy of treatments for anxiety states," the study authors wrote.

The study appears in the current issue of Neuron.

More information

The American Academy of Family Physicians has more about anxiety and panic.

SOURCE: Cell Press, news release, Dec. 15, 2004

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