This is the Most Frightening Story You May Read Today

As Americans prepare to celebrate the spooks and scares of Halloween, it’s a good time to blog about fear.  Fear is regarded as one of our most primal instincts.  It is also a popular topic for academic research.

The most disturbing study about fear was probably the infamous 1920 “Little Albert” experiment.  In a scenario that would certainly be against the law today, a researcher wanted to see if he could condition an otherwise healthy baby to be afraid of mice.  Whenever the baby saw a mouse, the researcher would make a frighteningly loud noise.  After repeated conditioning, the baby became terrified not only at the sight of mice, but of bunny rabbits, anything white, anything fuzzy, and even inanimate cotton balls.

Fortunately, today’s fear research uses Agilent solutions for much more beneficial and productive purposes.

Both fear and pain help us avoid unpleasant or harmful stimuli.  But did you know that fear can actually suppress pain?  Irish researchers studied fear in mice using an Agilent HPLC, mass spec and software.  They discovered that conditioned fear can trigger the brain’s endocannabinoid system, causing the mind to suppress pain.  This research may lead to help for people who suffer from chronic pain.

Just as we can be conditioned to fear certain things, we can also be conditioned to forget our fear of certain things.  This is called “extinction learning.”  German researchers discovered that the extinction of fear memories is regulated by IGF2, a protein triggered by hormones.  This research may lead to help for people who suffer from excessive fear, anxiety and mood disorders.  The study used several Agilent technologies, including Agilent microarrays, scanner and Low RNA Input Fluorescent Linear Amplification Kit.

Speaking of hormones, estrogen is known as the primary female sex hormone.  But estrogen may also play a role in fear conditioning.  (This is where – like little Albert – you learn to be afraid of something).  U.S. researchers using an Agilent Bioanalyzer system found that estrogen can facilitate fear learning in mice.  Estrogens increase messenger RNA expression within a region of the brain linked to emotional behavior, including both fear responses and pleasure.


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