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Catch up on coronavirus stories and special reports, curated by Mike Allen everyday

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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Scientists have learned a lot about how our brains work in dangerous situations — and how they work in people who have learned to control their fears, the Wall Street Journal reports.

Why it matters: If science can find ways to make us braver — not stupidly brave, just better able to face danger — we might all be more functional people and be more willing to take risks, from starting businesses to living more adventurous lives.

We might also be able to treat serious conditions like post-traumatic stress disorder.

How fear works, per the WSJ:

  • A protein called stathmin — which works in the amygdala, an area deep the brain that produces fear and anxiety — seems to have an important role, since mice that were bred not to have it were more willing to explore their surroundings.
  • There are also structures of the brain that help resist the cues from the amygdala.
  • A hormone called oxytocin helps mothers overcome their fears when their children are in danger, according to a study of maternal instinct in mammals.
  • People can be trained to control their fears, too. Military training helps, as the WSJ notes in the harrowing story of a British bomb disposal officer who stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost both of his legs.

One way the scientists can be so sure: They've scanned the brain of Alex Honnold, the guy who climbed El Capitan in Yosemite National Park without ropes. (He's featured in the documentary "Free Solo.") "When exposed to images that excite the amygdala in most people, his brain scans showed no response," per the WSJ.

The bottom line: There's no clear roadmap or timetable for when science will allow us to control these factors. But now that we're getting such a clear idea of how it works, it's probably just a matter of time.

Go deeper

1 hour ago - Health

U.S. ahead of pace on vaccines

A health care worker administers a dose of the Moderna vaccine in Ruleville, Mississippi. Photo: Rory Doyle/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The U.S. is now vaccinating an average of 2 million people a day, up from 1.3 million in early February.

Why it matters: That puts us on track to hit President Biden's goal of 100 million doses a month ahead of schedule.

Updated 3 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Harris breaks tie as Senate proceeds with lengthy debate on COVID relief bill

Photo: Oliver Contreras/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The Senate on Thursday voted 51-50 — with Vice President Kamala Harris breaking the tie — to proceed to debate on President Biden's $1.9 trillion coronavirus rescue package, likely setting up a final vote this weekend.

The state of play: Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) is forcing the Senate clerk to read the entire 628-page bill on the floor, a procedural move that will likely add 10 hours to the 20 hours already allotted for debate.

4 hours ago - World

Netanyahu campaigns against Biden's plan to save Iran deal

Netanyahu campaigns at a gym last month. Photo: Pool/AFP via Getty

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu indirectly criticized the Biden administration for its intention to return to the Iran nuclear deal and told his supporters he was prepared to "stand against the entire world" to stop it.

Why it matters: This is a major change of tune for Netanyahu, who had been careful in his statements on the Iran deal and avoided publicly criticizing President Biden. The statement was part of Netanyahu's attempt to rally his base ahead of Israel's election on March 23.

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