Neural Mechanisms of Fear Memory
Glenn E. Schafe, Yale University

Emotions play a significant role in guiding our behavior. For years, the brain's emotion system was largely ignored by scientists, in part because it was believed that emotions did not lend themselves to empirical investigation. Within the last several decades, however, emotion research has enjoyed a resurgence in both Psychology and the Neurosciences, fueled in part by the rapid and impressive progress made in understanding one very important emotion: fear. Like other emotions, fear can be both innate (or unlearned) or acquired through experience. Acquired fear, in particular, has attracted considerable experimental attention. In both animal and human studies, acquired fears are thought to involve alterations in synaptic transmission or “synaptic plasticity” within the amygdala, a brain region that has long been implicated in the expression of unlearned fears. In this session, we will briefly explore the neural and cellular mechanisms by which fear memories are acquired and consolidated within the amygdala. Next, we will explore the mechanisms within the amygdala and associated brain regions by which fear memories may be suppressed, a process known as “fear extinction”. Finally, we will turn to the question of how the study of acquired fear in laboratory animals has the potential to shed light on the treatment of fear-based psychological disorders in humans.

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