Scientists Say They Can Remove Fears From the Brain

They hope to use the technique to treat phobias and PTSD
By Michael Harthorne,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 22, 2016 6:31 PM CST
Scientists Say They Can Remove Fears From the Brain
A fear memory appears in the brain.   (Ai Koizumi/Cambridge)

Why confront your fear in the hopes of overcoming it when scientists could just erase it from your brain? That's exactly what researchers say they may be able to do in a study published Monday in Nature Human Behavior. Currently, most treatments for phobias and PTSD involve drugs, which can have side effects, or aversion therapy, which requires patients to be exposed to their fears, according to a press release. But the researchers behind the study say their technique—decoded neurofeedback, or DecNef—can "remove specific fears from the brain" using brain scanning technology and artificial intelligence.

Researchers created a fear memory in volunteers by shocking them when they saw a certain color, the Guardian reports. The brain pattern created by that new fear would occasionally reappear subconsciously, without the volunteer being afraid or thinking about it. When that happened, researchers gave the volunteer a reward. Eventually, the fear memory was overwritten. Researchers believe they can substantially reduce phobias and PTSD if they can figure out the brain patterns associated with common fears, such as spiders. Researcher Mitsuo Kawato hopes to start "systematic DecNef therapy" within a few years. (Your fear may make this spider look huge.)

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