What We Learned This Week: June 1st, 2012Enjoy HealthCentral's picks of five interesting, thrilling, frightening and amusing health stories we found this week.
Learning to Love Spiders
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New research from the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine found that exposure therapy, also known as: facing your fears, is an effective way to overcome a phobia.
The researchers monitored the changes in the brain activity of 12 people who intensely feared spiders as they went through the therapy.
First, the study subjects were educated about the spiders, with the goal of dispelling any false notions about their percieved danger. Next, the subjects were asked to gradually approach a terrarium holding a spider, then touch the spider, first with a paintbrush, then with a glove. Finally, they were invited to pet the spider with their bare hands.
As the exposure therapy seemed to dampen the responsiveness of the amygdala, insula and cingulate cortex of the brain - areas associated with fear responses. That decrease in fear continued six months after the exposure therapy was over when the subjects were tested again.
Furthermore, participants who had a stronger visual perception of fearful stimuli were most likely to respond to the exposure therapy.