Psychologists at the University of Amsterdam (UvA) have discovered that changes in patterns of brain activity during fearful experiences predict whether a long-term fear memory is formed. The research results have recently been published in the prestigious scientific journal Nature Neuroscience.
Researchers Renee Visser MSc, Dr Steven Scholte, Tinka Beemsterboer MSc and Prof. Merel Kindt discovered that they can predict future fear memories by looking at patterns of brain activity during fearful experiences. Up until now, there was no way of predicting fear memory. It was also, above all, unclear whether the selection of information to be stored in the long-term memory occurred at the time of fear learning or after the event.
Picture predicts pain stimulus
During magnetic resonance brain imaging (MRI), participants saw neutral pictures of faces and houses, some of which were followed by a small electric shock. In this way, the participants formed fear memories. They showed fear responses when the pictures were shown that were paired with shocks. This fear response can be measured in the brain, but is also evident from increased pupil dilation when someone sees the picture. After a few weeks, the participants returned to the lab and were shown the same images. Brain activity and pupil diameter were once again measured. The extent to which the pupil dilated when seeing the images that were previously followed by a shock, was considered an expression of the previously formed fear memory.