Fear is Processed Differently Following a Brain Injury

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December 22, 2019
Edward Smith

Fear is Processed Differently Following a Brain Injury

Recently, a research article was published by a team of researchers from UCLA, who demonstrated that the brain processes fear differently following a traumatic brain injury. The researchers believe this may have some basis for how and why individuals develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) following a TBI. Head and brain injuries can range in severity from a concussion to a cerebral contusion, brain bleed, and even a devastating intracerebral herniation. When people recover from a TBI, they often have complications that can range in type and scope. Sometimes, these complications take the form of mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, and PTSD.

Now, it appears these complications may have some basis in the way the brain processes fear following a TBI. A team of experienced researchers explored this hypothesis in a recently published research paper. The results may change the way doctors diagnose and treat traumatic brain injuries.

The Design of the Research Paper

Many people who have suffered a TBI, such as a concussion, in a traumatic accident go on to develop PTSD as a common complication. Up until this point, it hasn’t been clear exactly why this happens. A team of psychologists and neurologists from the University of California in Los Angeles (UCLA) put together a research team to study why this happens.

The researchers collected a population of animals and divided them into two separate groups. In one group, the research team performed a surgical procedure to induce a concussion-like brain injury in each individual animal. In the second group, surgery was performed; however, no injury was created.

After the surgical procedures were completed, the researchers exposed all the animals to a low level of noise. In addition, they also subjected the group to a series of foot shocks. The shocks were frightening but not painful. The animals were trained to associate the noise with the foot shocks.

The Results of the Research Study

When animals are afraid, they tend to freeze and stand in place. Their heart rates and blood pressure rise. As the researchers continued to expose the animals to the low-level noise, the animals in the injury group froze for a significantly longer period of time. This reflects that they had a fear response to the noise, associating it with a foot shock. This fear is similar to that of individuals who have PTSD. These individuals often associate a certain noise with a painful memory. In the case of the animals, even without receiving a foot shock after the noise, the animals associated that noise with a fear of being shocked in the foot.

Implications for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

The results of this study showed that the animals who had suffered a brain injury were processing the fear of the foot shock differently than the control group. In the animals in the injury group, sensitivity to noise was associated with a frightening foot shock. This was processed differently by the control group.

In addition, sensitivity to noise is a common symptom of PTSD. Often, when someone with PTSD is exposed to loud or uncomfortable noises, they experience flashbacks to a frightening situation. This is one of the hallmarks of PTSD. The results of this study may change the way doctors evaluate and treat individuals who have suffered a brain injury and go on to develop PTSD.

The Role of Fear

The researchers went on to study the brain and the areas responsible for processing fear. The amygdala is a region of the brain which has been known to play a critical role in learning, evaluating, and processing fear. Individuals who suffer from anxiety, such as those with PTSD, have increased activity in the amygdala. The researchers also found that the amygdala in the animals who suffered a brain injury was five times more active than the amygdala of the control group. This further supports the hypothesis that fear is processed differently in individuals who have suffered a brain injury. This may be a target of medical therapy in individuals who have suffered a brain injury in the future.

San Francisco Brain Injury Lawyer

I’m Ed Smith, a San Francisco Brain Injury Lawyer. Researchers have found that fear is processed differently following a brain injury. If someone you love has sustained a head or brain injury in a significant accident due to the negligence of another person or entity, please contact me at (415) 805-7284 or (800) 404-5400 for free, friendly advice.
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Attribution of Picture: The photograph at the beginning is hosted in its original form on Pixabay.com. The Creative Commons License gives guidance for its reproduction here.

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