The Phoenix

Monday, May 08, 2006

A Dreadful Study

Have you ever noticed that the anticipation of something negative about to happen (like going to the dentist) is often worse than the actual event? Why is that? Is it purely psychological? Or is our brain simply wired that way?

Dr. Gregory Berns, psychiatrist and neurosurgeon at Emory University, wanted to find out. So he set up the most dreadful experiment in order to learn about the science of dread and how the brain reacts to it. Funded by the National Institute on Drug Addiction, he set up his study (published just last Friday in Science) in the following manner:

He took 32 suckers,, participants, hooked them up to an MRI scanner, and then shocked the hell out of them. Literally. After an initial round of 96 FREAKING shocks to their left feet created a pain threshold baseline, researchers told each test subject the amount of pain (as a percentage of maximum pain threshold) prior to each shock to their left feet.

Round two then changed the rules. Prior to each shock, the participants were given a choice: you can either get a hurtful shock, closer to 100% right now, OR you can sit there and wait around for awhile and get a milder shock after some time had passed.

Several people couldn't stand waiting around for a milder shock and decided to get the higher voltage shock immediately. This reaction goes against common sense, unless you're a plain masochist, but this group of "extreme dreaders" couldn't stand the anticipation of the shock. They preferred to get the more painful jolt now instead of dealing with waiting for one...even if it was going to be less painful.

"A subset of people didn't want to wait," Dr. Berns reported. "They dreaded it so much that they preferred the bigger shock sooner. That is irrational behavior."

Instead of waiting 27 seconds for a 60% shock, they decided to get the 90% shock immediately.

My question is: Just how much are they paying these idiots getting the crap shocked out of them?

The MRI scans revealed the brain activity of the participants. The regions associated with pain obviously flared up like the 4th of July. Interestingy, the areas of the brain associated with attention were also lit - with the extreme dreaders' areas especially intense. I wonder if the part of the brain that is associated with, "Why the hell did I sign up for this damn experiment?" thoughts were also active.

So what do these results mean?

It seems for many people, the anticipation of something bad about to happen just makes it worse. Doing things like listening to music or watching a movie will probably distract an extreme dreader and take their mind off of things. The experiment also showed that feeling a high level of dread will actually make a normally rational person behave irrationally. These findings make it especially relevant to an organization like the National Institute on Drug Addiction.

Drug addicts often make poor decisions - ones that go against common sense. Since dread affects rational thought, this is some insight as to how the brain works when faced with dread and having to make a decision. "Addiction is a disorder of decision-making," Dr. Berns said.

So why do some people avoid going to the dentist even with a terrible tooth ache? Or how about not going to the doctor when someone experiences chest pain or feels a lump somwhere? Because the anticipation of going creates a high level of dread, and people will often avoid the situation alltogether - even against better judgment.

For you extreme dreaders out there, the next time you're faced with something bad or stressful coming up, try to distract yourself. A speech coach once told me in order to get over the public speaking jitters, distract myself by imagining the audience naked. Maybe I'm just perverted, or maybe public speaking doesn't make me feel very much dread, but the technique didn't work.

I just ended up with the case of the giggles.


Blogger Phats said...

Oh My gosh what in george w bush is that! :)

I think going to the dentist is dreadful, not just the anticipation but the actual getting whatever work done to my teeth. I'd much rather go to a doctor and get shots, of course I have been taking shots since 89, and I am not talking the beverage variety.

5/07/2006 11:16 PM  
Blogger PDD said...

Wow! Those shocks should be prohibited! Fucking psychos! lol. I think a shot of heroin to the veins is healthier than shocking the shit out of people. Perhaps that is what should be done for dreading something. Methadone could be the healthier alternative.

5/07/2006 11:37 PM  
Blogger angel, jr. said...

I think it's like scary movies, it's more scary waiting for the scary part to happen then actually seeing it.
Thanks, I won't be able to get that image of Bush out of my head for quite awhile.

5/07/2006 11:47 PM  
Blogger Keshi said...

na its quite the opposite for me...I may be a lil nervous b4 going to the dentist but I nearly pass out when I really see him :(


5/08/2006 1:24 AM  
Blogger Jim said...

it all makes sense, except how you got GW's head on your body

5/08/2006 2:08 AM  
Blogger David Amulet said...

I dread reading this blog, and yet I come back as soon as I can. I guess that fits ...

-- david

5/08/2006 5:00 AM  
Blogger Cari said...

I wonder if Bush went under the shock treatment...

THAT would explain ALOT!

5/08/2006 7:32 AM  
Blogger Curare_Z said...

Every time I dread something I feel stupid afterwards because it was never as bad as I anticipated. I guess I would've been one of the weirdos that asked for the 90% over the 60% so that I wouldn't have to wait.

5/08/2006 8:02 AM  
Blogger The Phoenix said...

phats, I hate shots. I really hate them. Not a big fan of the dentist chair either.

PDD, A person with a dread problem could wear a personal shocker. Like a dog trainer collar.

angel jr., Right - it's the anticiption that creates the tension. Sorry about the Bush image.

keshi, you are your own anesthesiologist.

jim, Being a streaker, I had no problem posing for the camera.

david, it's addiction, man. You're addicted to my blog. Get help now.

cari, I think getting shocks kills brain cells.

5/08/2006 8:04 AM  
Blogger The Phoenix said...

curare, I think after receiving almost 100 electric shocks, NONE of us would be making clear and logical judgments. I'd be crying for mommy.

5/08/2006 8:04 AM  
Blogger ozymandiaz said...

Here is another point; getting the near 100% shock was probably less physically harmful to said participants than the 60 seconds or so of extreme duress (stress) would have done to them. My wife participates in a stress study as a teacher (MBSR). MRIs are taken of people before during and after public speaking. Those who didn't even think they had a problem showed extreme conditions of stress with increased heart rates, extensive synaptic firing and high blood pressure. The label “dread” is just another name for stress. What’s really amazing to me is this doctor probably got a grant to tell us that people act irrationally and that irrationality increases under stress.
Although for me, this whole thing brought back memories of the beginning to “Ghostbusters”.

5/08/2006 8:23 AM  
Blogger Stacy The Peanut Queen said...

I've learned to ALWAYS expect the worst...that way I'm never disappointed. ;)

5/08/2006 8:29 AM  
Anonymous Jennifer said...

What the hell??

Ok, I think your ethics board down there needs a good shock. The last paper I wrote required me to clear my participants through an ethics board, I had to declare that people may be injured by PAPER cuts and eye strain while looking at the personals in the paper or filling out my questionnaire. They still hummed and hawed over it to ensure that no one was left permanently physically or psycologically scarred. Also, I was not ALLOWED to place test personal ads in the paper or on line because it may hurt people's feelings (feeling of rejection).

But this guy is administering ELECTRIC shocks to people??

I'm so confused.

Interesting study though.

5/08/2006 9:21 AM  
Blogger Jamie Dawn said...

I suppose when they signed up for this hair-raising experiment, they were told what was coming.
I'd have to be pretty down on my luck to sign up for that gig. Lots of cash in advance might persuade.
Dread is a real bitch, though. It is fear about the unknown. It's funny that even though they knew the shock would be less painful, it was the not knowing when it would come that they couldn't take.

5/08/2006 9:46 AM  
Blogger Perplexio said...

It's not so much dread as "anticipation" in general. The same thing applies in reverse to the opposite extreme. In anticipation of something good or exciting (take waiting in line for a rollercoaster ride for example, or riding a bicycle with training wheels on a rollercoaster for that matter...), I think people are inclined to want to prolong the anticipation as long as possible as the anticipation is part of what makes the experience so enjoyable.

I'm wondering if scientific studies have been conducted to determine the ideal time to wait in line for a rollercoaster. With too long a wait, the ride itself can't possibly live up to the anticipation, with too short a wait, there's not enough of a build-up and people end up taking the ride itself for granted because they didn't have to wait to enjoy it..

5/08/2006 10:41 AM  
Blogger BrianAlt said...

I think picturing people in their underwear only worked on the Brady Bunch.

5/08/2006 10:41 AM  
Blogger DaBich said...

Ahhhh Now I have Phoenix's nekkid pic, minus the head...whatever can I do with it??? :laughing evilly:

5/08/2006 11:11 AM  
Blogger :P fuzzbox said...

After the first shock my ass would have been gone. No worry about dreading the next one.

5/08/2006 12:21 PM  
Anonymous Bruce said...

I'm with Fuzz on this one. Fool me once; shame on you. Fool me twice; shame on me.

5/08/2006 12:25 PM  
Blogger KC said...

Perplexio beat me to it. That's exactly what I was thinking as I read this entry.... what about anticipation of good events? I know that most of the time when I look forward to something it never seems to live up to my expectations. (This usually seems to happen most with music concerts.)

Is this dread/anticipation thing connected in any way with the stomach aches I get when I visit a book or video store? I think I get the belly aches because there is so much to look at and I know I'll never have time to look at it all. As soon as I leave the store, my stomach ache magically disappears.

5/08/2006 12:25 PM  
Blogger PDD said...

I still say methadone - by the straw...

5/08/2006 12:41 PM  
Blogger Perplexio said...

jennifer: But what about those like myself who would be offended anyway due to feeling the ethics board is coddling us because they don't believe we can take a little bit of physical, mental, or emotional pain or stress?

5/08/2006 1:32 PM  
Blogger Jay said...

They couldn't have dreaded it that badly if they got shocked for their $10 'thankyou' fee. Who signs up for these things? God forbid I should ever be that hard up for cash.

5/08/2006 1:41 PM  
Blogger vani said...

addiction is so much more than bad decision making...

and yup, people will do all sorts of stuff for money, its sad, aint it??

LOL on the dubbya pic.!

5/08/2006 1:54 PM  
Anonymous Jennifer said...


I want to sign up for a roller coaster experiment. From my experience as a teen, the newest rides were always a disapointment given you wait for two hours for a 5 minute ride.

Dosen't matter if you are offended or not, Universities open themselves up to liability when conducting experiments. In Canada, you can have someone sign a waiver up the wazoo...but if there is documented permanent injury or perceived trauma from the research the zeros tend to multiply on the lawsuit like bunnies on viagra.

Beleive me, I jumped through hoops over paper cuts and eye strain, not to mention being kiboshed over a FAKE personal ad. Please, causing permanent emotional tourmoil because someone didn't get a response on a personal ad? Oy.

5/08/2006 2:51 PM  
Blogger Kyahgirl said...

people are so strange!

5/08/2006 3:05 PM  
Blogger Jim said...

sure, you streaking, like you would need a podium that big :)

5/08/2006 3:37 PM  
Anonymous delmer said...

I would much rather get something over with than wait for it.

However, for a 90% shock now vs. a 60% shock later -- I'd tough it out and wait.

5/08/2006 4:56 PM  
Blogger Garnish said...

Shut up you loser. No one likes you. Please stop your horrible blog.

5/08/2006 7:58 PM  
Blogger Karen said...

"That is irrational behavior"...

A lot of that goin' round since the FUCKER AND HIS FUCKIN' MORONS took over the White House!!

5/08/2006 10:11 PM  
Blogger The Phoenix said...

What I learned from this study is that some people will do anything for some pizza and beer money. Even get shocked 100 times or so.

Ozymandiaz is right, dread is just another word for stress. The worry warts of the world make things worse than they really are.

5/08/2006 10:14 PM  
Blogger Keshi said...

**keshi, you are your own anesthesiologist.

lol ur right abt that!


5/08/2006 10:53 PM  
Blogger DaBich said...

Hey, here's the link to that web site with your life path number on it:

5/09/2006 12:08 PM  
Blogger DaBich said...

err..that's "quiz" on the end...what the hay cut it off???

5/09/2006 1:24 PM  
Blogger ObilonKenobi said...

I am the perfect example of that. I have that dread anxiety. If something bad is coming up, I'd probably accept a stronger shock now than wait. Of course - that's just me. And I am a masochist, so...

5/09/2006 2:30 PM  
Blogger Will said...

Yeah that seems right that dread makes it that much worse. A fascinating study ... but there is no way you could shock the hell out of me.

5/09/2006 4:01 PM  
Blogger Laurie said...

I hate going to the dentist, but I don't get worked up about it until I'm actually in the chair and he's about to stick that needle into my gum.. that's when the dread kicks in, and then it's only for a moment.

That picture made the smoothie that I just drank curdle in my stomach :-P

5/09/2006 4:58 PM  
Blogger Etchen said...

OMG who thinks of research experiments like that?! Oh, and who in the world thinks to put G. W. Bush shirtless too? ;-)

5/09/2006 5:14 PM  
Blogger LostInTX said...

I don't have anything to say since I just gagged at the pic of dumbass. Not the body, if that's your's.. lol... but the face. Ugh.

Well maybe I do have something.. agreeing with Perplexio I think that they should have looked into good types of anticipation. When I'm getting ready to start a new job or getting ready to go on a much anticipated trip I tend to not sleep very well because I'm so excited my mind can't completely shut down. I think I'd be dead of stress if I let myself get that freaked out over the bad things. I learned a long time ago to *try* and let go of the "what if's..."

5/09/2006 5:37 PM  
Blogger Yawn said...

Perhaps one could point at tragic events and use them to induce dread in an entire public for political gain.

What am I saying- I do it all the time!

5/10/2006 9:53 AM  
Blogger cube said...

I find these results shocking.

5/10/2006 10:01 AM  
Blogger Jamie Dawn said...

I wonder what the result would have been in an all-male study, if they said, "We will either give you a light shock to the gonads now, or you can wait around for a terribly strong shock to occur unexpectedly."
Would any men take the light shock to the nads?
I think maybe they all would choose to dread.

5/10/2006 11:23 AM  
Blogger phlegmfatale said...

you know what's funny about "the anticipation of the shock?" I can't stand touching metal door handles when the air is cold and dry - they always shock the crap out of me, and it hurts like a mo-fo. I guess the nerves in my hands are particularly sensitive, but I hate that. Static shock. Torture. Anyway, it makes me not want to open the door for myself.

5/10/2006 11:26 AM  
Blogger Grafs said...

In regards to that, they tell me that I will have to sit for 30 minutes in front of the very computer that I will be taking my boards on, waiting for the test to begin. This sounds like it will be the most stressful 30 minutes of my life.

5/10/2006 9:36 PM  
Anonymous the weirdgirl said...

I totally know people like this (and no, I am not one of them). It's kind of sad actually.

5/10/2006 11:00 PM  

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