Oct 19, 2018

How your brain works when you're brave

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

World coronavirus updates: Spain's health care system overloaded

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins, the CDC, and China's Health Ministry. Note: China numbers are for the mainland only and U.S. numbers include repatriated citizens and confirmed plus presumptive cases from the CDC

Two planes carrying protective equipment arrived to restock Spain’s overloaded public health system on Wednesday as confirmed cases surpassed 100,000 and the nation saw its biggest death toll so far, Reuters reports.

The big picture: COVID-19 cases surged past 930,000 and the global death toll exceeded 46,000 on Wednesday night, per Johns Hopkins data. Italy has reported more than 13,000 deaths.

Go deeperArrowUpdated 11 mins ago - Health

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 9 p.m. ET: 932,605 — Total deaths: 46,809 — Total recoveries: 193,177Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 9 p.m. ET: 213,372 — Total deaths: 4,757 — Total recoveries: 8,474Map.
  3. Business updates: Small businesses are bearing the brunt of the coronavirus job crisis.
  4. World update: Spain’s confirmed cases surpassed 100,000, and the nation saw its biggest daily death toll so far. More than 500 people were reported dead within the last 24 hours in the U.K., per Johns Hopkins.
  5. State updates: Florida and Pennsylvania are the latest states to issue stay-at-home orders — Michigan has more than 9,000 confirmed cases, an increase of 1,200 and 78 new deaths in 24 hours.
  6. Stock market updates: Stocks closed more than 4% lower on Wednesday, continuing a volatile stretch for the stock market amid the coronavirus outbreak.
  7. 1 future thing: Shifts to telemedicine, at-home diagnostics, and drone delivery are all likely lasting consequences from this pandemic.
  8. What should I do? Answers about the virus from Axios expertsWhat to know about social distancingQ&A: Minimizing your coronavirus risk.
  9. Other resources: CDC on how to avoid the virus, what to do if you get it.

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U.S. coronavirus updates: Confirmed cases surpass 200,000

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins; Map: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

Positive cases of the novel coronavirus passed 213,000 on Wednesday — nearly twice as many as Italy, per Johns Hopkins — as more state governors issued stay-at-home orders for Americans to curb infection.

The state of play: Trump administration officials are anonymously sounding the alarm that America's emergency stockpile of personal protective equipment is running dangerously low, the Washington Post reports.

Go deeperArrowUpdated 19 mins ago - Health