Fear is a deeply wired fundamental reaction that has evolved over the history of biology in order to protect organisms against the perceived threat to their existence or integrity. We are all aware of it, but what actually happens in our brain when we are afraid? Ajay Satpute, an assistant professor of psychology at Northeastern University is probing through people’s brains as they face their fears. He is studying that, there is one circuit in the brain that controls fright across all situations for everyone or if it varies according to each specific person.
Satpute is using brain scans to analyse, with the help of machine learning, different changes in blood flow inside the brains of people as they watch videos of things that frighten them. Spotting brain activation patterns can serve as the foundation for a model to trace the neural basis of fear in the brain. “There are thousands of brain circuits—millions and billions—where brain activations happen,” Satpute says. “Their combined pattern is what ends up creating this experience of fear in our studies. However, it’s not like there is an area for fright, which would make it very easy to describe fear if that was true.”
Fear might be the best emotion to start relating mind and brain because being frightened is a potent experience that has been induced in a number of controlled studies. Also, it is triggered by different stimuli, such as heights and predators and all fears are not equal. “Understanding the neural basis of fear in particular also addresses whether all people feel fear in the same way,” Satpute says. “Whether humans and non-human animals share the same homologous pathways for fear or not, and also the related translational questions for fear and anxiety disorders.”
The study of fright will serve as a model for neural processes behind other emotions like happiness, sadness, etc.