Scientists at the University of Cambridge have found a way to remove specific fears from the brain. Unlike the traditional method in which the patients have to undergo some form of aversion therapy, this new method uses a combination of artificial intelligence and brain scanning technology to unconsciously remove a fear memory from the brain. For the study, the team developed a new technique called ‘Decoded Neurofeedback’ to read and identify a fear memory, and with it, they were able to monitor activity in the brain of patients, and specify complex patterns of activity that resembled a specific fear memory.
17 healthy participants were volunteered for the experiment. In all the participants, a fear memory was created by administering a brief electric shock when they saw a certain computer image. And when the pattern was detected, the team over-wrote the fear memory by giving the participants a reward. The procedure was repeated over three days, and by continuously connecting subtle patterns of brain activity linked to the electric shock with a small reward, they were able to gradually and unconsciously override the fear memory in the participants.
“The way information is represented in the brain is very complicated, but the use of artificial intelligence (AI) image recognition methods now allow us to identify aspects of the content of that information,” explains Dr. Ben Seymour, of the University of Cambridge’s Engineering Department, who was involved in the study. “When we induced a mild fear memory in the brain, we were able to develop a fast and accurate method of reading it by using AI algorithms. The challenge then was to find a way to reduce or remove the fear memory, without ever consciously evoking it.”
The team hopes their technique could lead to the development of a new way of treating patients with fear-related disorders such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and phobias.
- Source: University of Cambridge
Reference: Fear reduction without fear through reinforcement of neural activity that bypasses conscious exposure – Nature Human Behaviour