Showing courage lights up the brain

Scientists have uncovered new details about brain mechanisms associated with courage.

Israeli researchers used functional MRI to scan brain activity in volunteers as they decided whether to move either a toy bear or a live corn snake closer or farther away from them. Prior to the study, the participants had been classified as "fearful" or "fearless" based on a questionnaire about snake fears.

The scans showed that activity increased in an area of the brain called the subgenual anterior cingulate cortex (sgACC) when participants chose to act courageously. The findings appear in the journal Neuron.

"Our results propose an account for brain processes and mechanisms supporting an intriguing aspect of human behaviour, the ability to carry out a voluntary action opposite to that promoted by ongoing fear, namely courage," study leader Dr. Yadin Dudai, of the Weizmann Institute of Science, and colleagues said in a news release from the journal publisher.

"Specifically, our findings delineate the importance of maintaining high sgACC activity in successful efforts to overcome ongoing fear and point to the possibility of manipulating sgACC activity in therapeutic intervention in disorders involving a failure to overcome fear," they concluded. - (HealthDay News, June 2010)

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