A woman, whom the medical journal Current Biology simply calls SM, has a rare from of brain damage, and literally can not feel fear. But researchers sure had a good time trying to scare her!
According to a post on ScienceBlogs, a team from the University of Iowa took SM to an exotic pet store, to see how she'd behave around snakes and tarantulas. She poked and touched them all, and had to be stopped so she wouldn't be bitten. Next they took her to a Halloween haunted house, where she "walk[ed] into dark corners and hallways without hesitation." When people dressed as monsters/ghosts/murderers jumped out and tried to scare the group,
SM laughed and smiled at them, and even scared one by poking it in the head because she was curious about how it felt. She rated her fear level at 0 throughout, saying instead that she found it exciting.
The researchers also showed SM scenes from scary movies — The Ring, The Blair Witch Project, The Shining — in an effort to frighten her. "She told the researchers that she found them exciting, and even asked for the title of one of the movies so she could rent and watch it. "
On some level, SM's disorder sounds beneficial — can you imagine the things you might accomplish if you weren't scared or intimidated? The things you'd try, the people you'd talk to, the dreams you'd chase? Fear can prevent us from quitting a job we hate, making the first move in a relationship situation, and from speaking up for what we want.
Of course, there's a downside: SM's disorder has caused her to make "risky financial decisions." And she's gone through some frightening experiences: When she was 30, she had a knife held to her throat by a drug addict while she walked through a park at night; she's been held at gun point, was nearly killed in an act of domestic violence, "and has been the victim of numerous crimes in the poverty-stricken area in which she lives." Since she's unable to determine what is a threat, she doesn't avoid potentially harmful situations, like most of us do. Still, there's something alluring about being able to laugh in the face of danger — and being able to poke monsters in the head.
The Woman Who Knows No Fear [ScienceBlogs]