“Who among us hasn’t wanted to let go of anxiety or forget about fear? Phobias, panic attacks and disorders like post-traumatic stress are extremely common… Sitting at the heart of much anxiety and fear is emotional memory — all the associations that you have between various stimuli and experiences and your emotional response to them…. New research suggests that it may be possible not just to change certain types of emotional memories, but even to erase them.” R. Friedman, New York Times
ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post with Answer Key
Excerpt: A Drug to Cure Fear by Richard A. Friedman, NYT
“Whether it’s the fear of being embarrassed while talking to strangers (typical of social phobia) or the dread of being attacked while walking down a dark street after you’ve been assaulted (a symptom of PTSD), you have learned that a previously harmless situation predicts something dangerous.
It has been an article of faith in neuroscience and psychiatry that, once formed, emotional memories are permanent. Afraid of heights or spiders? The best we could do was to get you to tolerate them, but we could never really rid you of your initial fear. Or so the thinking has gone.
The current standard of treatment for such phobias revolves around exposure therapy. This involves repeatedly presenting the feared object or frightening memory in a safe setting, so that the patient acquires a new safe memory that resides in his brain alongside the bad memory. But if he is re-traumatized or re-exposed with sufficient intensity to the original experience, his old fear will awaken with a vengeance.
This is one of the limitations of exposure therapy, along with the fact that it generally works in only about half of the PTSD patients who try it…Several studies of rats done in 2000 showed that a drug called anisomycin, which blocks the synthesis of proteins in the brain, could reduce fear associations.
In one, researchers taught rats to fear a sound by pairing it with a shock. After the animals were fear-conditioned, they were presented with the sound and then immediately given the drug. When the animals were exposed to the sound again, they no longer appeared afraid; they had forgotten their original fear.
Curiously, there is a very narrow time window after retrieving a fear memory when you can disrupt that memory — hours, in the animal studies — before it closes and the drug has no effect.
Some may view any attempt to tamper with human memory as disturbing because it seems at odds with what we ought to do as a culture with the darker aspects of our history… Some may also argue that it’s a mistake to tinker with our fear responses because they’re natural — they evolved this way for a reason.
People who suffer panic attacks hyperventilate and have an intense desire to flee in situations where there is rarely actual danger. It turns out that panic disorder is associated with an increased sensitivity to carbon dioxide in the brain. If you lived in a cave with a clan of hominid fire-dwellers, you’d have been one of the first to get out when the oxygen supply was dwindling.
Evolutionary design has left us a few million years out of date; we are hard-wired for a Paleolithic world, but have to live in a modern one. The irrational fear of anxiety disorders was once probably useful and lifesaving. No longer.”
ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post
NOTE: Lessons can also be used with native English speakers.
L2 Student Level: Intermediate – Advanced
Language Skills: Reading, writing, and speaking. Vocabulary and grammar activities are included.
Time: Approximately 2 hours.
Materials: Student handout (from this lesson) and access to news article.
Objective: Students will read and discuss the article with a focus on improving reading comprehension and learning new vocabulary. At the end of the lesson students will express their personal views on the topic through group work and writing.
I. Pre-Reading Activities
Stimulating background knowledge: Brainstorming
Directions: Place students in groups, ask students to think about what they already know about the topic. Next, have students look at the pictures in the article and generate ideas or words that may be connected to the article. Debrief as a class and list these ideas on the board. Students can use a brainstorming chart for assistance.
Colorful Brainstorming chart from Live It Magazine.
II. While Reading Tasks
Directions: Students are to infer the meanings of the words in bold taken from the article. They may use a dictionary, thesaurus, and Word Chart for assistance.
- Fear of being attacked while walking down a dark street after you’ve been assaulted is a symptom of PTSD.
- A harmless situation can suddenly predict something dangerous.
- The best doctors could do was to get you to tolerate them.
- They could never really rid you of your initial fear.
- The current standard of treatment for such phobias are exposure therapy.
- The patient acquires a new safe memory that resides in his brain.
- But if he is re-traumatized his old fear will awaken with a vengeance.
- This might be a cure for people with arachnophobia.
- Exposure to your fear at the right moment, could free you of that fear forever.
- We should think twice about casually prescribing stimulants for young people.
Directions: Place students in groups and after they have read the entire article, have them complete the following paragraphs taken from the article. They can use the words and terms from the list provided, or provide their own terms. They are to find the meanings for any new vocabulary.
Anxiety enhances___memory. We all know that — it’s why you can easily ___where you put your___, but will never forget being___.
Indeed, a ___that will be published next month found that the escalating use of ___by the ___in active duty___, including those serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, was strongly correlated with an ___in the rates of___, even when___ for other factors, like the rate of attention deficit ___disorder.
The study___ the use of prescription stimulants, like Ritalin and Adderall, and the rates of PTSD in nearly 26,000 military service members between 2001 and 2008, and found that the ___of PTSD ___along with the prescriptions.
Word List: controlling, increase, forget, emotional, military, stimulants,
examined, increased, incidence, study, hyperactivity, attacked,
wallet, soldiers, PTSD,
Grammar Focus: Structure and Usage
Directions: The following groups of sentences are from the article. One of the sentences in each group contains a grammatical error. Students are to identify the sentence (1, 2, or 3 ) from each group that contains the grammatical error.
- It has been a article of faith in neuroscience.
- This is one of the limitations of exposure therapy.
- Their fear did not return even at the end of one year.
- Arachnophobes has an emotional memory.
- The basic idea is that they are no longer afraid of spiders.
- When the animals were exposed to the sound again, they no longer appeared afraid.
- There’s a flip side to this story.
- Evolutionary design has left us a few million years out of date.
- Some may also argue that it’s an mistake to tinker with our fear responses.
III. Post Reading Tasks
Directions: Have students use the WH-question format to discuss or to write the main points from the article.
Who or What is the article about?
Where does the action/event take place?
When does the action/event take place?
Why did the action/event occur?
How did the action/event occur?
Directions: Place students in groups and have them restate the following three statements in their own words. Afterwards, have the groups share their thoughts as a class. To reinforce the ideas, students can write an essay on one of the following discussion topics.
“So it is possible that taking stimulants could increase one’s risk of developing PTSD when exposed to trauma… a study that will be published next month found that the escalating use of stimulants by the military in active duty soldiers, including those serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, was strongly correlated with an increase in the rates of PTSD, even when controlling for other factors, like the rate of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.”
“Some may view any attempt to tamper with human memory as disturbing because it seems at odds with what we ought to do as a culture with the darker aspects of our history: Never alter the facts, even if we have divergent interpretations of them.”
“Some may also argue that it’s a mistake to tinker with our fear responses because they’re natural — they evolved this way for a reason. Like most other animals, we come hard-wired with a flight or fight response along with its associated anxiety and fear. Without this warning system to protect us from predators and other dangers, we’d have been dinner long ago on the savanna.”
Directions: Allow students 5 minutes to write down three new ideas they’ve learned about the topic from the reading, two things they did not understand in the reading, and one thing they would like to know that the article did not mention. Review the responses as a class.