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Fear Me NotSo if you could live without fear, would you?

Scientists got a glimpse of what that might be like in the 1930s working with monkeys. They cut out an area of the monkeys’ brains called the temporal lobe. Before the surgery, the monkeys hid from experimenters, but afterwards they allowed people to pick them up.

Not only were the monkeys now fearless, they also displayed something called hypermetamorphosis. That’s an irresistible urge to examine everything… cigarette stubs, food, wire cages, metal nuts…

In fact, when another animal attacked them, rather than run, the monkeys would approach the animal to examine it. You see, when the monkeys’ temporal lobes were removed, so were the amygdala – a set of two almond-shaped structures responsible for processing emotions and fear. 

What happens when humans lose their amygdalas? Since people with damage only to the amygdala are extremely rare, much of our knowledge about it came in the last twenty years from a woman known as S.M.  

At age 20, she was diagnosed with a rare genetic disorder that damaged her amygdala. Today, S.M. is 44, with normal intelligence, language and perception. However, like the monkeys, she’s a woman without fear.

Although S.M. can recall “hating” snakes in the past, she was now curious and fascinated. She held one, touched its tongue and, despite being told the larger snakes were dangerous, asked to touch them fifteen times.

S.M’s story clearly illustrates the important role of the amygdala in human survival.

So, although Franklin Delano Roosevelt bolstered the nation by saying, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself,” the inability to feel fear can be just as scary a thought.

For more information…

Living Without Fear
Ira Flatow, host of NPR's Science Friday interviewed Professor Daniel Tranel, who was involved in the study of the patient SM who had damaged to her amygdala, resulting in her not being able to experience fear. More

Fear and the Amygdala
Consistent with its role in fear processing, amygdala hyperarousal has been implicated in a number of disorders, including anxiety and depression. More

Amygdala: Contributions to Fear
The amygdala is critical for aversive emotions, particularly fear. Understanding the role of the amygdala in fear has led to progress in the development of treatments for anxiety disorders. More

The Amygdaloid Complex: Anatomy and Physiology
A review on the anatomy and physiology of the amygdala. More

The Amygdala and Fear Conditioning
Biology-Online.org is a free resource for biology related information run by enthusiasts from all around the world. There you can read more information about the link between the fear and the amygdala. More