It sounds like something straight out of one of the bad Timothy Dalton Bond flicks. Instead of the uber-villain being unable to feel pain, sympathy or jealousy over the cool BMW gadgets, it is fear that has been left by the wayside.
In a new paper published in the journal Current Biology, researchers from the University of Iowa reveal the results and conclusions they’ve arrived at after having followed a woman for two decades who is unable to experience fear. They ask her to handle giant spiders and dangerous snakes – nothing. They stick her in the middle of one of the most haunted buildings in the world – notta. They make her watch the worst parts of The Haunting and The Exorcist – zilch.
Even when she was grabbed in a park and threatened with a knife to her neck, she calmly diffused the situation and walked – yes WALKED – away, only to return to the same park the next day without a trace of fear.
The scientists say the reason for this unique condition is the destruction of a section of the patient’s brain known as the amygdala. It has long been known to play a featured role in generating fear in laboratory animals, and it now has been shown to play an important role in humans as well.
In order to determine that the patient was in fact a bad Bond villain waiting in the wings, the researchers exposed her to many things that would scare the shit out of most of us and recorded her response both in real-time and in subsequent standardized questionairres meant to measure the levels of emotions. Even though she says she doesn’t like spiders and snakes, she handled them anyways and reported no fear.
Additionally, she kept a digital diary for three months describing her emotions; all of them because she has no idea that the researchers actually are interested in fear. And though plenty of scary things have happened to her, it doesn’t show up.
I think this is a really cool story, and I could go into more depth, but in truth I’d just be stealing some information that actually was gathered by Ed Yong, author of the Discover blog It’s Not Exactly Rocket Science. So I’m just going to point you over to his post. Give it a read. There’s a lot of really cool information.