What is Big Think?  

We are Big Idea Hunters…

We live in a time of information abundance, which far too many of us see as information overload. With the sum total of human knowledge, past and present, at our fingertips, we’re faced with a crisis of attention: which ideas should we engage with, and why? Big Think is an evolving roadmap to the best thinking on the planet — the ideas that can help you think flexibly and act decisively in a multivariate world.

A word about Big Ideas and Themes — The architecture of Big Think

Big ideas are lenses for envisioning the future. Every article and video on bigthink.com and on our learning platforms is based on an emerging “big idea” that is significant, widely relevant, and actionable. We’re sifting the noise for the questions and insights that have the power to change all of our lives, for decades to come. For example, reverse-engineering is a big idea in that the concept is increasingly useful across multiple disciplines, from education to nanotechnology.

Themes are the seven broad umbrellas under which we organize the hundreds of big ideas that populate Big Think. They include New World Order, Earth and Beyond, 21st Century Living, Going Mental, Extreme Biology, Power and Influence, and Inventing the Future.

Big Think Features:

12,000+ Expert Videos

1

Browse videos featuring experts across a wide range of disciplines, from personal health to business leadership to neuroscience.

Watch videos

World Renowned Bloggers

2

Big Think’s contributors offer expert analysis of the big ideas behind the news.

Go to blogs

Big Think Edge

3

Big Think’s Edge learning platform for career mentorship and professional development provides engaging and actionable courses delivered by the people who are shaping our future.

Find out more
Close
With rendition switcher

Transcript


Question:
What are you currently researching?

Joseph LeDoux:
I think one of the more interesting things is our focus now on individual differences, you know, if you condition 10 rats or 20 rats to be afraid of the sound paired with a shock you find that some are very afraid and some are not very afraid and the other are kind of in the middle.  So the typical way of dealing with that is you average it altogether and you get the mean, and that’s what you study.  

The outliers are viewed as just kind of a nuisance which adds variance to the data, but now we’ve begun to study those previous nuisances to try to understand a little more about what’s really going on in terms of pathological fear, because almost all of the drugs that are developed to treat fear and anxiety are developed on that average animal, rather than the extremes. But what we really need to understand, I think, and the drugs to be much more effective and perhaps have fewer side effects if they were targeted for the animals with extreme fear.  

So we’re trying to come to the question of what causes animals to have this extreme fear.  What pushes them out to the ends of the distribution?  The basic idea is that, you know, one way to do this is to take animals that have the extreme fear and to start breeding them and create genetic lines that are fearful, but I think it’s also interesting to ask, given that it already exists in the population of rats, these extreme behaviors, what can we learn about, say the pathophysiology of extreme fear by studying those animals.  In other words, we don’t have to start breeding and creating genetic lines to get at what’s different because the difference is already there.

We can compare animals that are really afraid and those that are not afraid and look in their brains and see if there area any, for example, structural differences in the amygdala in terms of how the neurons, what their dendritic branches, what their axons are like.  What kinds of molecules are present in those neurons?  And to what extent?  So we can get a lot of information that might distinguish fearful and not so fearful rats that could provide important clues as to what pushes them out there towards the extremes.  

But that project is just beginning so we don’t have any answers, but I think it’s going to be an important project.

Recorded on September 16, 2010
Interviewed by Max Miller

More from the Big Idea for Sunday, July 24 2011

 

What Causes Extreme Fear in...

Newsletter: Share: