Brain surgery man cured of spider fear

A brain surgery patient was cured of arachnophobia following an operation but developed a temporary aversion to music.

Bird-eater Spider

Dr Nick Medford, a senior lecturer in psychiatry at the Brighton and Sussex Medical School (BSMS), and medical student Sophie Binks, made the discovery, the first of its kind, after observing a patient who had started having seizures and was found to have swollen tissue in part of his brain.

As a result, he had to have his damaged left amygdala, which helps to process emotions such as fear, anger, and pleasure, and determine what memories are stored or removed, a BSMS spokesman said.

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When the patient recovered from surgery, he found that his previous intense fear of spiders had completely disappeared, and instead he started to find them “fascinating”, the spokesman said.

But the patient developed a temporary aversion to music, which dissipated with time, according to research.

Dr Medford said he believes the phobia could have been cured while leaving normal response fear intact because humans have two different types of fear response.

He said: “It’s like when you see a snake and you jump back in alarm, but when you look back you realise it’s just a stick. That’s your quick panic response: it isn’t very accurate but it’s necessary for basic survival.

“Then there’s the more nuanced fear-appraisal which takes longer to process but is more accurate.”

On removing the left amygdala, Dr Medford suggested that some of the neural pathways specific to this quick panic response may have been eliminated.