[The following is an exact transcript of this podcast.]
We all know people who are completely unflappable, able to remain calm in the face of total calamity. Don’t you just hate those people? Well, a new study in the October 9th issue of the journal Neuron suggests that with a little practice, you could become one of them. Because researchers led by Nobel laureate Eric Kandel have taught mice how to be less skittish—training that physically changes their brains.
A lot of scientists who study learning in animals make use of a kind of behavioral test that couples a sound [audio of a memorable sound] with a stimulus, such as a mild foot shock. Over time, the furry subjects figure out that the sound signals a coming shock. Kandel’s team turned that test on its head by using a sound [audio of a memorable sound] to signal safety. Mice trained in these tests display less anxiety when they hear their safety signal.
This learned safety, the scientists found, works just as well as a drug like Prozac to keep mice calm in stressful situations, such as being tossed into a pool of water, which is the rodent equivalent of getting stuck in traffic. By studying how this training changes the brain, scientists might devise new ways to treat anxiety in people. So, next time you’re stuck in traffic, just remember, [audio of same memorable sound].