Science & The Martial Arts
News and research that provide insight
and understanding of the martial arts and related activities.
The Fear Factor: Are Some People More Predisposed?
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
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.
About The Author:
Christopher Caile is the Founder and Editor-In-Chief of FightingArts.com.
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.