The brain’s fight and flight responses to social threat

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Credit: Macià Buades-Rotger

A study published in eNeuro exploring the neural correlates of the 'fight-or-flight' response finds that people who choose to flee perceive a greater threat, which leads them to mentally and behaviorally disengage from the situation.

Macià Buades-Rotger and colleagues designed a Lord of the Rings-themed experiment in which 36 female participants competed as Frodo against two confederates playing as Sauron and Saruman in a reaction time task. Participants could choose to avoid a limited number of encounters with their opponents by "putting the Ring on." If they chose to stay and fight, they had to select the intensity of a sound blast (retaliation) that would be directed toward their opponent if the participant won the task by having a quicker reaction time. The task was set so that participants lost two-thirds of trials, and each opponent gave either high or low sound blasts.

The authors found that brain regions associated with thinking about the mental state of others were engaged when deciding to flee. However, when facing the highly provoking opponent, the "flight" response was associated with reduced activity in these regions and increased activity in the amygdala, indicating increased threat detection.

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Article: Avoidant responses to interpersonal provocation are associated with increased amygdala and decreased mentalizing network activity
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1523/ENEURO.0337-16.2017

Corresponding author: Macià Buades-Rotger (University of Lübeck, Lübeck, Germany), [email protected]

About eNeuro

eNeuro is an online, open-access journal published by the Society for Neuroscience. Established in 2014, eNeuro publishes a wide variety of content, including research articles, short reports, reviews, commentaries and opinions.

The Society for Neuroscience is the world's largest organization of scientists and physicians devoted to understanding the brain and nervous system. The nonprofit organization, founded in 1969, now has nearly 38,000 members in more than 90 countries and over 130 chapters worldwide.

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