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Neural activity associated with monitoring the oscillating threat value of a tarantula

Mobbs, Dean and Yu, Rongjun and Rowe, James B. and Eich, Hannah and FeldmanHall, Oriel and Dalgleish, Tim (2010) Neural activity associated with monitoring the oscillating threat value of a tarantula. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 107 (47). pp. 20582-20586. ISSN 0027-8424. PMCID PMC2996708. doi:10.1073/pnas.1009076107.

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Phylogenetic threats such as spiders evoke our deepest primitive fears. When close or looming, such threats engage evolutionarily conserved monitoring systems and defense reactions that promote self-preservation. With the use of a modified behavioral approach task within functional MRI, we show that, as a tarantula was placed closer to a subject's foot, increased experiences of fear coincided with augmented activity in a cascade of fear-related brain networks including the periaqueductal gray, amygdala, and bed nucleus of the stria terminalis. Activity in the amygdala was also associated with underprediction of the tarantula's threat value and, in addition to the bed nucleus of the stria terminalis, with monitoring the tarantula's threat value as indexed by its direction of movement. Conversely, the orbitofrontal cortex was engaged as the tarantula grew more distant, suggesting that this region emits safety signals or expels fear. Our findings fractionate the neurobiological mechanisms associated with basic fear and potentially illuminate the perturbed reactions that characterize clinical phobias.

Item Type:Article
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URLURL TypeDescription Information CentralArticle
Mobbs, Dean0000-0003-1175-3772
Yu, Rongjun0000-0003-0123-1524
Additional Information:© 2010 National Academy of Sciences. Freely available online through the PNAS open access option. Edited by Edward E. Smith, Columbia University, New York, NY, and approved October 13, 2010 (received for review June 24, 2010). We thank Simon Strangeways, Mark Townsend, and Gary Chandler for creation of hardware and help with data acquisition. We also thank Ray Dolan and Chris Frith for advice and Jay Wood of the Spider Diaries ( This work was funded by the UK Medical Research Council and Wellcome Trust Grant 077029 (to J.B.R.). Author contributions: D.M., J.B.R., and T.D. designed research; D.M., R.Y., H.E., and O.F. performed research; D.M. and R.Y. analyzed data; and D.M. and T.D. wrote the paper. The authors declare no conflict of interest. This article is a PNAS Direct Submission. This article contains supporting information online at
Funding AgencyGrant Number
Medical Research Council (UK)UNSPECIFIED
Wellcome Trust077029
Subject Keywords:expectancy errors; imminence; distance
Issue or Number:47
PubMed Central ID:PMC2996708
Record Number:CaltechAUTHORS:20180302-152144105
Persistent URL:
Official Citation:Neural activity associated with monitoring the oscillating threat value of a tarantula. Dean Mobbs, Rongjun Yu, James B. Rowe, Hannah Eich, Oriel FeldmanHall, Tim Dalgleish. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Nov 2010, 107 (47) 20582-20586; DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1009076107
Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:85076
Deposited By: Tony Diaz
Deposited On:02 Mar 2018 23:33
Last Modified:15 Nov 2021 20:25

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