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Brain Patterns Can Boost Confidence and Reduce Fears, May Soon Treat Depression and Anxiety

Dec 20, 2016 05:12 AM EST
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Results of emerging research published in the journals Nature Communications and Nature Human Behaviour suggest that brain scan patterns can be used to help people conquer their fears and increase their confidence.

But aside from that, its greater implications include treating people suffering from depression, dementia and anxiety disorders, including post-traumatic stress disorder, Hakwan Lau, a UCLA associate professor of psychology and the senior author of both studies said, as stated in an article by UCLA Newsroom.

In their paper entitled "Fear Reduction Without Fear Through Reinforcement of Neural Activity That Bypasses Conscious Exposure," Lau and his team demonstrated that fear can be reduced using a process called decoded neurofeedback, which identifies intricate patterns in the brain activity connected to a specific memory and then assigning it a feedback, say, in the form of a reward.

"After just three days of training, we saw a significant reduction of fear," Lau said. "We changed the association of the 'fear object' from negative to positive. Their brain activity was completely unconscious," Lau continued. "That makes sense; a lot of our brain activity is unconscious." Lau added that using "unconscious fear reduction," like in the experiment, could be more effective in behavioral therapy.

In their second study entitled "Multivoxel Neurofeedback Selectively Modulates Confidence Without Changing Perceptual Performance," Lau and his colleagues still used decoded neurofeedback, but this time, they used it to give people's confidence level a boost.

According to Lau, by looking into the brain patterns of people like the ones produced from the confidence experiment, neuroscientists can decode people's thoughts about food, love, money and many other concepts, which eventually could help them design treatments for eating disorders, gambling addiction, and other related emotional or behavioral issues, Eureka Alert wrote.

Generally funded by the National Institutes of Health's National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, Lau and his co-authors - Mitsuo Kawato, professor and director of the ATR Brain Information Communication Research Laboratory Group in Kyoto, Japan; Ai Koizumi, a UCLA postdoctoral scholar; Ben Seymour, a neuroscientist at the University of Cambridge; and Aurelio Cortese, a doctoral student in Kawato's laboratory - will determine whether the techniques described in the papers can be used to help patients with real phobias on their next paper.

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