This is the first study examining the brain basis of fears acquired indirectly, through the observation of others. The study shows that the amygdala, which is known to be critical to the acquisition and expression of fears from personal experience, is also involved during the acquisition and expression of fears obtained indirectly through social observation. The findings appear in the most recent issue of the journal Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience (SCAN).
The research team, from the laboratory of NYU Professor Elizabeth Phelps, also includes Andreas Olsson, now a post-doctoral fellow at Columbia University’s Department of Psychology, and Katherine Nearing from NYU’s School of Medicine.
Previous research has shown how people develop fears after first-hand experience of an aversive event—getting stung by a bee or being burned by a hot pan. In acquiring these fears, a process known as fear conditioning, the brain’s amygdala plays a critical role. However, it’s unclear if fear conditioning can occur indirectly—that is, through social observation with no personal experience. It is also uncertain what neural processes take place in the acquisition of fears stemming from events or circumstances not experienced first-hand.
In this study, subjects witnessed a short video of another individual participating in a fear-conditioning experiment. In the video, subjects saw another person responding with distress when receiving mild electric shocks paired with a colored square. The subjects watching the video were then told they would take part in an experiment similar to the one they just viewed. Unlike the experiment in the video, these subjects never received shocks.
The results showed that the participants had a robust fear response when they were presented with the colored square that predicted electric shocks in the video, indicating that such a response resulted from merely observing—rather than directly experiencing—an aversive event. In addition, using brain imaging techniques, the researchers found that the amydgala response was equivalent with both when watching others receive a shock and when presented with the colored square that was previously paired with shock in the video. This finding demonstrates that similar neural systems are engaged when fears are learned through first-hand experience or by merely observing others.
“In our daily lives, we are frequently exposed to vivid images of others in emotional situations through personal social interactions as well as the media,” explained Phelps. “The knowledge of somebody else’s emotional state may evoke empathic responses. However, as our results reveal, when others’ emotions are accompanied with vivid expressions and perceived as potentially relevant to our own future well being, we may engage additional learning mechanisms.”
Olsson added: “In a way, learning by observing others’ emotional responses is like exploiting their expertise without being directly exposed to the potential risks associated with the direct learning. This seems a very adaptive thing to do for most social animals, which could explain why it is commonly seen across species. However, it remains to be explored in what way uniquely human social abilities contribute to learning fears through social observation.”
James Devitt | alfa
Study tracks inner workings of the brain with new biosensor
16.08.2018 | Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität Bonn
Foods of the future
15.08.2018 | Georg-August-Universität Göttingen
There are currently great hopes for solid-state batteries. They contain no liquid parts that could leak or catch fire. For this reason, they do not require cooling and are considered to be much safer, more reliable, and longer lasting than traditional lithium-ion batteries. Jülich scientists have now introduced a new concept that allows currents up to ten times greater during charging and discharging than previously described in the literature. The improvement was achieved by a “clever” choice of materials with a focus on consistently good compatibility. All components were made from phosphate compounds, which are well matched both chemically and mechanically.
The low current is considered one of the biggest hurdles in the development of solid-state batteries. It is the reason why the batteries take a relatively long...
New design tool automatically creates nanostructure 3D-print templates for user-given colors
Scientists present work at prestigious SIGGRAPH conference
Most of the objects we see are colored by pigments, but using pigments has disadvantages: such colors can fade, industrial pigments are often toxic, and...
Scientists at the University of California, Los Angeles present new research on a curious cosmic phenomenon known as "whistlers" -- very low frequency packets...
Scientists develop first tool to use machine learning methods to compute flow around interactively designable 3D objects. Tool will be presented at this year’s prestigious SIGGRAPH conference.
When engineers or designers want to test the aerodynamic properties of the newly designed shape of a car, airplane, or other object, they would normally model...
Researchers from TU Graz and their industry partners have unveiled a world first: the prototype of a robot-controlled, high-speed combined charging system (CCS) for electric vehicles that enables series charging of cars in various parking positions.
Global demand for electric vehicles is forecast to rise sharply: by 2025, the number of new vehicle registrations is expected to reach 25 million per year....
17.08.2018 | Event News
08.08.2018 | Event News
27.07.2018 | Event News
21.08.2018 | Ecology, The Environment and Conservation
21.08.2018 | Life Sciences
21.08.2018 | Power and Electrical Engineering