Scientists have figured out a method to eliminate fears while you sleep. PHOTO: Wikimedia Commons
A team of scientists, led by neurologist Katherina K. Hauner have figured out a method to eliminate specific fears. As an added bonus, the fear conquering doesn’t require any lengthy counseling or epic shamanic journeys: it all happens in your sleep.
The method is simple: associate a fearful stimulus with a smell, then have that odor waft over the subject while he or she is asleep. When the person wakes, they no longer show any fearfulness toward the stimulus.
To make all that happen, the scientists showed healthy subjects a rotating set of faces. Two of the faces were coupled with an electric shock to the foot. Before long, the subjects would sweat in response to seeing those faces. Additionally, each face was paired with a specific smell.
Then the subjects napped, while the researchers kept the smells coming. When subjects smelled the odor associated with a face that had been coupled with a shock, they no longer sweat in response to that face. It seems that by eliminating the association with the smell to the pain, the accompanying association of the face went away as well, leaving the subjects with no more fear of that face.
Could this work for preexisting fears? That’s the big question. It would be easiest if the fear had a corresponding smell, but researchers may be able to create the smell association and then use it to wipe out the entire fear. The potential for everything from PTSD to getting over breakups is very intriguing.