In addition to recording her responses to spiders, snakes and other scary stimuli, the researchers measured her experience of fear using many standardized questionnaires that probed various aspects of the emotion, such as fear of death or fear of public speaking. She also carried a computerized emotion diary for three months that randomly asked her to rate her fear level throughout the day.
Perhaps most notable, Feinstein said, are her many near-misses with peril because of her inability to avoid dangerous circumstances. In one case, when she was 30, she approached a drugged out-looking man late one night who pulled a knife and threatened to kill her.
Because of her complete absence of fear, the woman -- who heard a choir singing in a nearby church -- responded, "If you're going to kill me, you're going to have to go through my God's angels first." The man abruptly let her go.
The mother of three was also seen by her children approaching and picking up a large snake near their home with no seeming regard for its ability to harm her, Feinstein said.
"Its a perfect example of the sort of situation she gets herself in that anyone without brain damage would be able to avoid," Feinstein said. "With her brain damage, she's so trusting, so approachable to everything. In hindsight, [her response to the man with the knife] may have saved her life because the guy got freaked out."
Alicia Izquierdo, an assistant professor of psychology at California State University in Los Angeles, said the study results add to existing evidence that the amygdala should be targeted in developing therapies for phobias, anxiety disorders and PTSD, "where too much fear is a bad thing."
"In small doses, fear is a good thing -- it keeps us alive," Izquierdo said. "For many years, we have known from studies in rodents and monkeys that the amygdala is necessary for the normal expression of fear. Those who study
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