From the usual annual apocalypse predictions to the mass hysteria caused by sightings of mysterious clowns, there has been a lot to be afraid of in 2016. Not to mention, you know, that other thing… With so much doom and gloom out there, it’s natural that some individuals would seek out ways to conquer their fears or perhaps just rid their psyche of certain phobias or memories altogether. Luckily for them, a team of neuroscientists from the University of Cambridge have developed a method of essentially “erasing” phobias directly from the brain.
According to a Cambridge press release, the technique works through a combination of artificial intelligence and brain scanning technology. Researchers used powerful AI algorithms to scan neurological activity throughout the entire brain in real time, and found that the algorithms were able to detect when test participants were remembering the fear, either consciously or subconsciously:
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 [...] even when the volunteers were simply resting, we could see brief moments when the pattern of fluctuating brain activity had partial features of the specific fear memory, even though the volunteers weren't consciously aware of it.
Researchers ‘tricked’ participants’ brains into recalling fearful memories by giving participants a small amount of money each time the memory was recalled. Cutting-edge science, folks. By turning these fears into a type of reward, this technique essentially re-programs participants’ brains. According to the researchers’ results published in Nature Human Behavior, researchers were able to alter the brain’s reaction to fear conditioned stimuli (CS+s) without explicitly informing participants what exactly they were up to inside their heads:
We show that we can reduce fear towards CS+s by pairing rewards with the activation patterns in visual cortex representing a CS+, while participants remain unaware of the content and purpose of the procedure.
While this method has thus far been hailed as a potential treatment for PTSD and other fear-related trauma, the fact that it works on participants whether or not they are aware of it is slightly disconcerting, especially given other recent neuroscience developments. Soon, we might all be victims of various forms of subliminal mind control designed to create or remove fears from our psyches. Wait, that sounds familiar...