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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

Updated 11 mins ago - Technology

Instagram's boss faces Congress' questions on harm to teens

Photo illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios. Photo: Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images for WIRED

The head of Instagram will find himself in Congress' crosshairs for the first time Wednesday in the one area lawmakers have shown they are willing to pass tech regulations — protecting youngsters online.

Why it matters: Republicans and Democrats have found common ground in grilling tech companies on how their products harm children, especially after revelations in The Wall Street Journal about Instagram's potential harm to the mental health of teen girls.

Jan. 6 committee to start contempt proceedings against Meadows

Photo: Olivier Douliery/AFP via Getty Images

The Jan. 6 select committee plans to move forward with contempt proceedings against former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows for his refusal to comply with the panel's subpoena.

Why it matters: The committee has used the threat of contempt — and the associated financial and reputational costs — to try to ensure evasive witnesses sit for their depositions.

Complaint to FTC: Amazon search results full of potentially deceiving ads

Photo: Nigel Kirby/Loop Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Amazon does not sufficiently distinguish between its search results and paid ads, potentially "deceiving millions of consumers," according to a complaint filed to the Federal Trade Commission.

Why it matters: Joan Moriarty, research director for the Strategic Organizing Center, a coalition of labor unions that filed the complaint, told the Washington Post the group is "very hopeful" that the FTC will investigate the complaint because Lina Khan (D), a known Amazon critic, is now chair.

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