Friday, 13 March 2009

A drug to end fear

Scientists may be a step closer to eliminating the emotional fear response by using a drug called propranolol.

In a recent study, psychologist Merel Kindt and a team of researchers from the University of Amsterdam showed images of two different spiders to 60 human volunteers.

One of the images was accompanied by a mild electric shock until the volunteers learned to exhibit fear and anxiety for the spider even without the shock being administered.

The following day, some of the volunteers were administered propranolol, while a control group of volunteers was given a placebo. The volunteers were then showed the spider images again.

While no difference was found between the fear response of the control group and those who had taken propranolol initially, differences became apparent on the third day.

On the third day, those who had received propranolol were found no longer to exhibit a fear response on seeing the spider, unlike those who had received the placebo.

While the volunteers could remember the association between the spider and the pain of an electric shock, this was found no longer to elicit any emotional response.

The researchers plan to investigate the long-term effects of administering propranolol, which currently is used to treat high-blood pressure.

They expect their results to contribute to a new procedure for the treatment of patients with anxiety disorders.

More information is available from the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research

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