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The Fear Factor: Are Some People More Predisposed?

By Christopher Caile

The inheritance of a shorter version of a specific gene has been found to increase a person’s predisposition to anxiety and fear.

This may explain why some people have a relatively low level of fear or anxiety, or why some people seem to react more calmly in high stressed situations. It might also explain why some martial artists are able to control fear and emotions more easily in high stress situations. This discovery does not eliminate other factors, such as the environment, experience or behavioral training that can also affect a person’s reaction to fear or stressful stimulus, but it appear to be one possible cause.

The findings were based on tests of reactions to pictures of people who looked scared. Using a hi-tech functional magnetic resonance imaging, subjects with the shorter version of the gene were shown to have a more pronounced reaction or activity within a part of the brain known as the amygdala, which processes fear.

The same gene, SLC6A4, may also play a role in anxiety disorders.

The study also suggests a difference in how fear is processed by humans as opposed to some animals. In animals danger is often first signaled by scent. Among humans, this study suggests that at times fear may be triggered visually by other people’s reactions.

The study was conducted by Dr. Ahmad Hariri and Dr. Daniel Weinberger of the National Institute of Mental Health and reported in Science magazine.

Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) is a relatively new tool used to visualize brain function, by visualizing changes in chemical composition of brain areas or changes in the flow of fluids that occur over a time span – from seconds to minutes. In the brain, blood flow is correlated to neural activity, so fMRI is used to diagnose brain activity in relation to tasks performed or stimuli received.

The amygdala is an almond-shaped region (about one inch long) that sit in the brain's medial temporal lobe (forebrain), a few inches in front either ear (on each side roughly behind the eyeballs), which play a role in emotions and is at the center of most brain activity associated with fear and anxiety. It is also linked to: perception of facial expressions, enhancing memory in emotional situations, and coordination of maternal behavior. The amydgala has also been associated with numerous psychiatric and neurological disorders ranging from epilepsy to anxiety disorders and social phobia to Alzheimer's disease.

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About The Author:

Christopher Caile is the Founder and Editor-In-Chief of He has been a student of the martial arts for over 43 years. He first started in judo. Then he added karate as a student of Phil Koeppel in 1959. Caile introduced karate to Finland in 1960 and then hitch-hiked eastward. In Japan (1961) he studied under Mas Oyama and later in the US became a Kyokushinkai Branch Chief. In 1976 he followed Kaicho Tadashi Nakamura when he formed Seido karate and is now a 6th degree black belt in that organization's honbu dojo. Other experience includes aikido, diato-ryu aikijujutsu, kenjutsu, kobudo, Shinto Muso-ryu jodo, kobudo, boxing and several Chinese fighting arts including Praying mantis, Pak Mei (White Eyebrow) and shuai chiao. He is also a student of Zen. A long-term student of one branch of Traditional Chinese Medicine, Qigong, he is a personal disciple of the qi gong master and teacher of acupuncture Dr. Zaiwen Shen (M.D., Ph.D.) and is Vice-President of the DS International Chi Medicine Association. He holds an M.A. in International Relations from American University in Washington D.C. and has traveled extensively through South and Southeast Asia. He frequently returns to Japan and Okinawa to continue his studies in the martial arts, their history and tradition. In his professional life he has been a businessman, newspaper journalist, inventor and entrepreneur.

To find more articles of interest, search on one of these keywords:

fear, anxiety, genes, inheritance, martial arts training, mental programming

Read more articles by Christopher Caile

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