If you fear a future in which AI dominates mankind or environmental degradation sends the planet plummeting into Mad Max-ian dystopia, you may be relieved to know that scientists have found a way to alleviate those fears … by using the very same technology that likely freaks you out in the first place.
It’s called decoded neurofeedback (DefNef, for short), its findings were recently reported in the science journal Nature Human Behaviour, and it involves some light electroshock therapy — though not in that scary Mike Pence way, promise.
Unlike other phobia-fighting therapies, DefNef doesn’t force patients to relive the fear-inducing experience. E.g., if you’re afraid of heights, you don’t have to march up to the top floor of a parking deck. Instead, the scientists subjected 17 healthy volunteers to “uncomfortable but tolerable” shocks while exposing them to scary images, thus creating a new “fear memory.” Once it was apparent that the patients remembered the images negatively (MRIs indicated activity in the amygdala), they then set to “reprogram” their reactions to those same scary images by giving them rewards (like money) rather than shocks.
All of the patients saw reductions in the fear responses, and now the scientists will continue with their efforts, expanding the size of the test group. Should the results hold, it’s quite possible that in the future we won’t need drugs or years of therapy to relieve us from the ghosts of past traumas — a little bribe should do the trick.
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