The science of being scared: Some brains wired for scares

By Allison McGinley, Special Projects Producer, amcginley@clickorlando.com
Gaard Swanson, Anchor, gswanson@wkmg.com
Published On: Oct 29 2012 04:39:44 PM EDT
Updated On: Oct 30 2012 12:52:13 AM EDT

Why do some people seek out scares, while others hide? A local neuropsychologist explains different brain functions.

ORLANDO, Fla -

For some people being scared makes them feel alive.  Their hearts race. Their breath quickens. For others, they’d rather close their eyes or find safety at home. 

You might think the fear is all in your head.  You'd be right.  But more precisely, it's all in your brain.

Dr. Robert Cohen is a Neuropsychologist for Orlando Health, and he explained to me some people are just wired for scares.

“There's a name for those people type t personality or thrill seeking personality types,” said Cohen.

And there's a science behind that personality. When your brain senses a stressful situation, certain parts of it take action.

In the center are the emotional controls: the Amygdala and the hypothalamus which is what creates our fight or flight response

Then you have the Cingulate or that frontal lobe which keeps those emotions in check.

When you see something that scares you, the center of the brain kicks into gear.  Your blood flows faster and you begin to sweat. Then the frontal lobe says slow down.

Is this real?  Do we really need to be so worked up?

And here's what makes "Type T" or thrill-seeking people different, “there's no brake they just keep going,” said Cohen.

The frontal lobe lights up, but slowly, allowing that "Type T" person to immerse themselves in the fun of fear just a little bit longer. 

“What we saw in the people who could not tolerate anxiety it lit right away to modulate that response,” said Cohen.

So Dr. Cohen's advice?

“If you want to explore that side of yourself that feeling that adrenaline rush which there really is very little to substitute that with, that this is the place to do it,  in a movie in a theme park where it's safe, you know you're not going to get hurt,” said Cohen.

And if not, be sure to bring a "Type T" friend along to protect you.

Cohen says there are obviously some societal impacts on how scared we get. We tend to be more scared of things if our parents showed similar reactions as we were growing up.

 

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