Thursday, May 04, 2006

The Concept of Dread

I LIVED on dread; to those who know
The stimulus there is
In danger, other impetus
Is numb and vital-less.

As ’t were a spur upon the soul,
A fear will urge it where
To go without the spectre’s aid
Were challenging despair.

Emily Dickinson
No, The Concept of Dread here is not from Kierkegaard's existential philosophy, it's anticipating a mildly painful shock to the foot.

Picture of volunteer's brain

Pain in the brain.
A volunteer's brain lights up when the feet are shocked, but for some, waiting for pain was as bad as the hurt itself. Photo
Credit: Gregory Berns

Neurobiological Substrates of Dread
Gregory S. Berns, Jonathan Chappelow, Milos Cekic, Caroline F. Zink, Giuseppe Pagnoni, Megan E. Martin-Skurski.
Science 5 May 2006: Vol. 312. no. 5774, pp. 754-758.

Given the choice of waiting for an adverse outcome or getting it over with quickly, many people choose the latter. Theoretical models of decision-making have assumed that this occurs because there is a cost to waiting—i.e., dread. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging, we measured the neural responses to waiting for a cutaneous electric shock. Some individuals dreaded the outcome so much that, when given a choice, they preferred to receive more voltage rather than wait. Even when no decision was required, these extreme dreaders were distinguishable from those who dreaded mildly by the rate of increase of neural activity in the posterior elements of the cortical pain matrix. This suggests that dread derives, in part, from the attention devoted to the expected physical response and not simply from fear or anxiety. Although these differences were observed during a passive waiting procedure, they correlated with individual behavior in a subsequent choice paradigm, providing evidence for a neurobiological link between the experienced disutility of dread and subsequent decisions about unpleasant outcomes.

Is the anticipation of pain really as bad as experiencing it? The Associated Press seems to think so:
Research Shows Anticipating Pain Hurts

Published: May 4, 2006

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Anyone who's ever taken a preschooler to the doctor knows they often cry more before the shot than afterward. Now researchers using brain scans to unravel the biology of dread have an explanation: For some people, anticipating pain is truly as bad as experiencing it.

How bad? Among people who volunteered to receive electric shocks, almost a third opted for a stronger zap if they could just get it over with, instead of having to wait.

More importantly, the research found that how much attention the brain pays to expected pain determines whether someone is an "extreme dreader" -- suggesting that simple diversions could alleviate the misery.

The research, published Friday in the journal Science, is part of a burgeoning new field called neuroeconomics that uses brain imaging to try to understand how people make choices.
PRELIMINARY SUMMARY from The Neurocritic (until I can read the entire Science paper) is this quote from Susan Sontag:
"The best emotions to write out of are anger and fear or dread. If you have emotions like that you just sail."

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At May 05, 2006 1:23 PM, Blogger Dan Dright said...

Can I tell you how tired I am of FMRI in general?

Can I? Can I?

Well I just did.

I think I am gonna write a post about it. Right after I finish dreading my 2 exams back to back tomorrow.

Which I am not too nervous about since, after all, the miracle of FMRI would probably show me that the classes tax different cortices and I will do fine.



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