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He Was Scared of Spiders. Then Doctors Cut a Chunk of His Brain Out and Something Strange Happened.

"Stomach-lurching" disgust.

Image via Shutterstock

He traded his fear of spiders for a fear of...music?

Image via Shutterstock Image via Shutterstock

A 44-year-old businessman started suffering unexplained seizures, and when doctors investigated they found an abnormality in his brain: a damaged left amygdala.

As New Scientist reported Friday, after doctors cut out the man's damaged left amygdala, the man started noticing that he'd lost a fear — and gained a loathing.

While he had previously suffered from arachnophobia — a fear of spiders — the man found after surgery that he wasn't scared of spiders anymore, but that he had picked up a "stomach-lurching" disgust for music.

Thankfully for the man, his musical aversion died down over time, while his fear of spiders didn't come back.

Why did cutting out a chunk of brain cure the man's arachnophobia?

Nick Medford, who observed the businessman at the British Brighton and Sussex Medical School, said that it's possible that some of the neural pathways related to panic-inducing fear — the brain's "quick-and-dirty panic response" — were removed with the left amygdala, while general fear pathways were left intact.

Medford's theory would explain why the businessman remained afraid of public speaking, a deeper sort of dread compared to the quick panic of seeing a spider.

Unfortunately for science, the businessman was not interested in being studied further, but Medford said the man's case provided an interesting precedent for further research into phobias and their treatment.

"It's not uncommon for people to have temporal lobe surgery for severe epilepsy," Medford noted. "And arachnophobia is supposed to be reasonably common. So we might be able to test people for that phobia, or any other kind, before and after surgery."

Follow Zach Noble (@thezachnoble) on Twitter

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