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Scientists Use Pac-Man Game to Study Fear

After initial trials with gamers (mostly involving stimulant abuse, sleep deprivation, and homophobic slurs) failed to produce any significant results, scientists are now using a Pac-Man-like computer game to better understand how the brain reacts to imminent danger.

Essentially, the scans show how the subjects used different regions of their brains as the level of "threat" in the game increased over time. It works via electric shock: As they move their blue triangle through a 2D maze, players must avoid the red dot "predator" (Halo 3 this is not, apparently). If the predator catches the triangle, the volunteer receives an electric shock.

The scientists found that as long as the predator was some distance away, blood flowed most strongly to the prefrontal cortex in the forebrain-active during periods of anxiety, and helps coordinate escape strategies to avoid the threat, he said. When the predator moved nearer, blood flow switched to the midbrain, which controls gut-level reflexes such as fight or flight.

So, what have we learned today? "We are probably better survival machines now," said Dean Mobbs, on of the study's authors.

From the BBC

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Tags: Pac-Man, Research

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