Taming the amygdala: An EEG analysis of exposure therapy for the traumatized

Citation (APA Style): Harper, M. (2012). Taming the amygdala: An EEG analysis of exposure therapy for the traumatized. Traumatology, 18(2), 61-74. doi:10.1177/1534765611429082.


Animal and human studies have shown that the emotional aspects of fear memories mediated in the lateral nucleus of the amygdala can be extinguished by application of low-frequency tetanic stimulation or by repetitive sensory stimulation, such as tapping the cheek. Sensory input creates a remarkable increase in the power of the low-frequency portion of the electroencephalogram (EEG) spectrum. Glutamate receptors on synapses that mediate a fear memory in attention during exposure therapy are depotentiated by these powerful waves of neuronal firings, resulting in disruption of the memory network. In this study, the role of sensory input used in the principal exposure therapies is examined through analysis of the raw EEG data obtained in clinical and lab tests. Nearly all sensory inputs applied to the upper body result in wave power sufficiently large to quench fear–memory networks regardless of input location and type and whether the sensory input is applied unilaterally or bilaterally. No power advantage is found for application of sensory input at energy meridians or gamut points. The potential for new or extended applications of synaptic depotentiation in amygdalar memory networks is discussed.

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