In our last article on phobia list starting with “B”, we mentioned the causes of phobia. However, there are many lingering questions related to phobia and in this phobia list starting with “C”, we are going to cover one very interesting aspect – the brain activity!
Ever wondered what happens in the brain in those who have phobia? We will try to briefly explain this to you in this article. Before we start with the explanation, this is what you need to remember:
Amygdala is culprit!
Oh yes! That cute little part of the brain that deals with emotions is the main culprit. The question is, how and why? Let us find out…
Our brain is capable of storing and then recalling events that are either dangerous or potentially deadly. At some point in life when a person faces one of those events, the brain successfully retrieves that dreadful memory. This retrieval can take place once or more than once. As the memory gets retrieved, the body of the person experiences the same stress and reaction that he experienced for the first time which created the memory in the first place.
But what happens in the brain in case of a phobia? In such a case, the brain areas that deal with stress and fear keep on retrieving the dreadful event, albeit inappropriately.
In order to find out which part of the brain causes all the nuisance, scientists have used functional MRI. They found that it is the amygdala (that part of the brain which sits right behind the pituitary gland located in our brain) that increases its activities when a person with a phobia is exposed that object or situation that causes the phobia.
We know that amygdala is associated with all our emotional responses.
Scientists tell us that:
Right amygdala is highly reactive to negative emotions while Left amygdala is associated with all our pleasant reaction.
So, it turns out that when a person with a phobia is exposed to the object or situation that causes the phobia, his or her right amygdala gets activated. However, the sense of distress experienced by the person will depend on the degree of activation of right amygdala. Higher activation leads to increased distress.
Scientists also found that when a person with phobia was, for a prolonged period of time, exposed to phobia-inducing pictures or object or situation, three more parts of the brain get hyperactivate, which include:
- Stria terminalis
- Anterior cingulate cortex
The conclusion that the scientists drew from this is that when a person is exposed to phobia-inducing stimuli for a longer time frame, the brain doesn’t really calm down. On the contrary, other parts of the brain get engaged and make the situation worse.
When exposed to a stressful situation or object, the amygdala in that person suffering with phobia (caused by that situation or object) will lead to release of ‘flight-or-fight’ hormones. These hormones put extreme stress on the person’s body and sends the mind in a high-alert state, causing all the distress.
Nope, it is not over yet friends! The brain has more role to play. Read on…
Researchers have found that:
People who have phobias have what is known as Expectancy Bias, which is directly correlated to the activity of the brain.
What really is expectancy bias? Nothing rocket science! People who have phobias will have very high (exaggerated actually) expectancy of encountering the objects/situations that cause phobia. This is what is called expectancy bias.
Studies have revealed the expectancy bias aries out of underactivity of two parts of the brain:
- Visual cortex
- Prefrontal cortex
Basically, people with phobias will have a lack of cognitive control with respect to the objects or situations that cause phobia. This lack of cognitive control eventually increases the suffering of the individuals suffering with phobias.
Examples of lack of cognitive control include (but not limited to):
- Spilled cocoa can evoke the fear of blood in a person.
- A rope may appear to be a snake to a person.
- A simple thread may appear to be a spider.
Okay, we are done! We have learned what happens in the brain of those suffering with phobia. Now it is time for the “C” Phobia list.