2006-05-09

Interpretations

The recent Science article Neurobiological Substrates of Dread, Berns et al. (2006) has drawn a lot of interest. In the mainstream media many similar dry and simplified accounts are propogating, but the blogosphere has some great analysis. Three unique perspectives:

In the Psych Central blog, John Grohol talks about distraction easing dread and notes: "...while the researchers were surprised to find that the anticipation of pain was in the rear of the brain rather than the front, I’m not sure most researchers would share that surprise. Avoidance of pain has been shown for decades to be a very core behavior in mice and humans. Nobody likes pain."

Also, "[The study] really has no impact on people’s current or future treatments when undergoing painful procedures or such in medicine."

Neuromarketing blog does draw a practical conclusion: "Between mirror neurons 'simulating' an observed (or even heard) action by another, and pain centers being triggered by thinking about future pain, it’s clear that marketers may have the opportunity to create discomfort among their targets." He gives icky examples, and warns, "I’d advise advertisers to be aware of the reality of pain anticipation and to use painful imagery with caution."

Meanwhile, The Neurocritic nimbly guts the study: "...the authors commit the logical fallacy known as 'reverse inference' by inferring the participants' emotional state from the observed pattern of brain activity. They discount the role of the amygdala in 'dread' because both moderate and extreme dreaders showed elevated hemodynamic responses there during the unpleasant interval of waiting for the shocks."

Taken together, the anatomical locations of dread responses suggest that the subjective experience of dread that ultimately drives an individual's behavior comes from the attention devoted to the expected physical response (SI, SII, the caudal ACC, and the posterior insula) and not simply a fear or anxiety response.


"So anticipation of pain is 'attention,' not fear and anxiety. It's a little early to make that conclusion."

More good points in the blog comments, too. How about yours?




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