Updated 2:00 PM EDT, Wed, May 20, 2020

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Can Arachnophobia be Cured by Brain Surgery?

Goliath Bird Eating Spider

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For the first time, a man's irrational fear of spiders -- better known as arachnophobia - can be clinically overcome. The catch is it requires an operation to cut out a small part of a person's brain.

This scientific procedure was discovered by accident.

A 44-year old arachnophobic businessman went to a doctor complaining of sudden seizures. This man was also suffering from "glossophobia," or an excessive fear of speaking in public.

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A brain scan showed he had abnormal activity in his left amygdala. This area in the temporal lobe is associated with emotional reactions such as the flight or fight response, among other things.

Further tests made it clear the man had a condition called "sarcoidosis," a rare malady that damages the brain, lungs and even the skin.

This led doctors to consider surgery to remove the man's damaged left amygdala.

The surgery was a success, but the man noticed something strange afterwards. Chief among the strangeness was the fact he was no longer afraid of spiders.

Before the surgery, he would be so afraid of spiders he would throw tennis balls at them or use hairspray to immobilize them before vacuuming them up.

After the surgery, he was able to touch spiders. He now says he finds spiders fascinating. His fear of public speaking remained, however.

Nick Medford at the Brighton and Sussex Medical School hypothesized that some of the neural pathways connected to this man's arachnophobia were cut off with the removal of his left amygdala.

The parts of the amygdale responsible for generalized fear remained intact, however.

The man didn't want to subject himself to further testing, so it was hard to assess the other aspects of the man's panic responses.

Medford says it's possible to test this in other people that are going through surgery and that have arachnophobia, as well.

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