Phenomenon

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Logline:

It is rare that we still have so many unexplained Phenomenon with all our new high technological gadgets. This program will help explain some of those phenomenon.

This is a special series focusing on some of the oddest, most common or recent, rarest and most interesting phenomenon on earth and maybe the universe. We will travel around the globe to film on-site while interviewing people of first encounter and narrate explanations from leading experts in the field; answering the who, what, where, when, why and how.

Think Mythbusters go Ghost Hunters.


Synopsis:

Episode 1

How is a yawn contagious even if you don’t see the other person yawning until after you started? How do woman’s menstrual cycle synchronize with one anothers? These two undefined phenomenon are possibly the cause of Hormones secreted through the skin; an airborne chemical messenger that transports a signal from one cell to another no matter the species. It can relay messages such as stimulation or inhibition of growth, immune system, metabolism, mood swings, hunger cravings, prepare the body for mating, fighting, fleeing, or puberty, parenting, menopause, it can even kill or reproduce more hormones in anothers body.

The science behind it is still unclear, but we do know that all multicellular organisms produce hormones. As we evolve we are less sensitive to picking up on them, but we still do from our evolutionary upbringing. All humans and mammals alike do the same.

The Discovery Channel's Mythbusters also concluded that yawning is contagious. Recent studies show that the contagiousness of yawns can also be passed to different species, for example, a study observed that 21 out of 29 dogs yawned when a human yawned, but did not yawn when the human simply opened his mouth.


Episode 2:

We travel the globe interviewing people with documented phobias. The most common and the rarest. Some that have been on the news recently. We will answer the who, what, where, when, why and how of individual phobias with leading science and research.

Opening captioned: Phobia Phenomenon Phobia is an irrational fear of something. It’s a phenomenon because science can only guess at how they are inherited into the mind. The debate is whether they are innate or learned.

Narrated (Deep Morgan Freeman voice): Today we focus on some of the oddest and most interesting phobias of the intelligent mind.

Shot begins as a woman enters an elevator and is hesitant to press the 13th button. She looks twice at her appointment slip to confirm its on the 13th floor. She then presses 12, then right away 14 as if she has a plan. As the camera is framed around her nervous gestures, biting her lip, looking at the buttons, etc.,

Narrator: Triskaidekaphobia, the fear of the number 13. The concept that this superstition is so wide spread and common that we no longer use the number 13 in many cases is that of relative importance to analyze. Majority of building don’t have a 13th floor. Many airlines don’t have a 13th row. And any other commodity or service that is related to 13 is somehow ‘sugar coated’ with another number. What we don’t know wont hurt us, because in reality it is actually the 13th row or 13th story, just named differently. There are only rare cases of building using the 13th floor for the machine rooms and not for clients, but normally it is just omitted on the elevator number. This puts it in perspective that life is all in our minds.

Phobias don’t require intelligent thought. It’s an irrational fear of something thus a kitten can have a phobia of water.

List of Phobias: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_phobias

The following is from Author, Cyro Masci, MD:

Fear is a very ancient and universal emotion in man. It can be defined as the sensation that you are in danger, that something bad is about to happen. Fear is almost always accompanied by a host of physical symptoms which are quite disturbing. When it is not justified by the presence of real danger or threat, or by any rational cause, and when it is also accompanied by a systematic avoidance of the situations which lead to it, then we have what is called a phobia.

Phobia is actually a kind of panic reaction caused by specific stimuli or situations. There are three basic types of phobia:

• Agarophobia, literally, it is the irrational fear of the agora (in ancient Greece, this was the place where the market was located), in other words, the generalized fear of places or situations where there is a potential difficulty or embarassment to escape from it, or where help might not be available in case of need. This includes going out of our own's home, travelling without company, or being in the middle of a crowd, standing in queues to leave a place, etc.

• Social phobia, when the person has a marked and persistent fear of some specific or generalized social situations, such as the shame of misbehaving in front of other people, the fear of participating in group reunions, of starting or maintaining a conversation with strangers, of initiating a romantic encounter, of talking to persons of authority, etc.

• Specific phobias, when there is a marked and persistent fear in the presence, or even by anticipation of encountering specific objects and situations, such as the fear of flying, injections, coackroaches, dogs, of seeing blood, high places, taking a lift, driving an automobile, or staying in enclosed and restrictive places, such as tunnels or traffic jams.

Origins Six of every ten persons who suffer phobias are able to remember when the fear crisis occurred for the first time, i.e., when the sensation of panic became attached to the place or situation where it first happened.

For these persons, there is a very clear connection between the object and the sensation of fear. For example, a man, by some unexplained reason, suffers for the first time a strong attack of anxiety or panic when he is driving his automobile. From this day on, he avoids driving alone, out of fear that he will be subjected to the same sensation and will lose control, without anyone near him to help him out. Then, this fear may expand to and cover other situations where he might feel ill and the escape from it is difficult, such as in a movie theather. In this manner, agarophobia arises , the generalized fear of "getting ill" and be unable to escape from it or get help.

In another example, a woman had a traumatic experience in a car crash. From this day on, she is panick-stricken everytime she is required to board a vehicle and develops a specific phobia to cars. Please note that agarophobia (the previous example) and car phobia are fundamentally the same, but their origin, and even the kind of fear, are different from one another. In the first case, what the patient is avoiding is any situation where help might be difficult or complicated, while in the second case, what the patient is avoiding is the object in itself, i.e., the car.

But why a person becomes afflicted with phobia ? And why some phobias are more common than others ? Many neuroscientists believe that there is a clear involvement of biological factors. For example, functional brain imaging studies have shown that there is an increased blood flow and cell metabolic actiity on the right side of the brain in phobic patients. It has also been demonstrated that identical twins may develop the same type of phobia, even when they were reared separately soon after birth, and educated in different places.

It may be also true that human beings are biologically prone to acquire fear of certain noxious animals or situations, sich as rats, poisonous animals, animals with a disgusting appearance, such as frogs, slugs or cockroaches, etc. In a classical experiment, the American psychologist Marting Seligman associated an aversive stimulation (a small electric shock) to certain pictures. Two to four shocks were enough to establish a phobia to pictures of spiders or snakes, while a much larger series of shocks was needed to cause phobia to pictures of flowers, for example.

One possible explanation is that those fears where originally important for the survival of the human species thousands of years ago and that they lie dormant inside our brains, just waiting to be awaken at any time.

Another reason for the development of phobias is that we often associate danger to things and situations that we cannot prevent or control, such as lightning strikes during a storm, or the attack of a dangerous animal. In this sense, patients who have a clinically-established panic disorder, often end developing phobia to their own crisis, because they feel totally helpless in controlling it. In consequence, they start avoiding going to or staying in places or situation where they might become publicly embarassed or unable to escape, due to the onset of the crisis.

Finally, there is also the social component or cultural influences on phobia. For example, there is a kind of phobia called taijin kyofusho, which occurs only in Japan. In contrast to what happens in the social phobias (when the patient is afraid of being hummiliated or loathed by other persons), taijin kyofusho is the fear of offending other persons by an excess of modesty or showing respect ! The patient is afraid that his social behavior or an imaginary physical defect might offend or embarass other people. As you can see, this kind of fear occurs very rarely in a Western society...

What is a common feature of all phobias, then, is that the brain establishes powerful and enduring new connections in situations of great emotion.

In order to understand better what goes on inside our brain when these connections are formed, you could think a little about an universal situation. You probably remember a situation in the past , when you was enjoying the company of another person, in a very pleasant atmosphere, with a nice musical background. Now, every time the same melody is played, you recall the situation. Perhaps even the same pleasant sensations will be felt again.

This was a positive feeling, but in our brain the phenomenon occurs exacty in the same way for fear sensations. In general, any strong emotion bcomes easily attached to the surrounding events or environment. Usually, phobias develop as the consequence of feelings of anxiety or panic being elicited in potentially dangerous situations. No animal likes to be cornered or trapped in a place or near another animal where it cannot escape from in case of danger. And we are animals too, remember ?

To be trapped in a traffic jam, inside a lift cabin or in a shopping mall full of people evokes a similar sensation of being cornered, with no way out, for people who suffer phobias. This is the simple reason why so many patients with clinical panic disorder develop a phobia to enclosed spaces (claustrophobia).

Since phobias could be labelled "panic with an object", i.e., they are panic crises which occurr only in specific situations or places, it is important to understand how a panic crisis is formed.

For this, it might be interesting to compare your brain to a car which is fitted with an anti-theft alarm device, of the kind which is touched off just by rocking its chassis a little bit.

This "alarm device" is located in one of the most ancient parts of our brain, particularly what we call the "limbic system", which is responsible for controlling "fight-or-flight" reactions. Our internal alarm sounds only in situations where there is real danger. For many people, however, the alarm sounds for no apparent reason (by analogy, this happens in cars sometimes, as you may have seen, in parking places). This is what we call the panic attack. For other people, the alarm is switched on in improper situations and places, such as inside a lift, enclosed places or on your way in the traffic. This is what we call a phobia.

The panic disorder is a mixture of both things: the panic attack and the phobia. In the first phase of the panic disorder (or syndrome) the person is subjected to random panic attacks, for no reason whatsoever. In the second phase, the person starts to have the same symptoms in places or situations where the panic crisis had happened. Thus, if a panic attack occurred inside an automobile, the patient becomes afraid of driving alone or stops driving altogether. If it occurred in an enclosed space, the patients is loath to go to the interior of banks, shopping malls and movie theaters. Or stays very near to the exit doors, just in case. For many, the simple act of thinking, remembering or even seeing a picture of the situation is enough to detonate a panic attack. Symptoms

Whoever suffers phobia feels an enormous fear every time he or she encounters (or even imagines...) the original phobic stimuli which unleash the panic attack. At least four of the following symptoms are usually observed: • breathlessness, • heart fluttering (palpitation), • chest pain or pressure, • a sensation of suffocation or drowning, • dizziness and vertigo, • a sensation of detachment from reality ("air head"), • tingling sensations in several part of the body, • heat or cold waves, • sweating, dry mouth, • a sensation of fainting, trembling or shaking, • a fear of dying or becoming mad, or losing control.

What largely differentiates a person with phobia from one with simple, "normal" fear, is that the patients start to avoid at any cost the places, situations and objects wich unleash the panic attacks, thus changing completely their life routine and even profession.

Oftentimes, phobic patients have their lives complicated by two factors. First, they usually lose confidence on their own ability to overcome the panic symptoms and start avoiding any places where they feel they will be unable to get help. Secondly, they tend to exaggerate or overvalue their own symptoms, feeling that they will die, or have a heart attack or stroke, or that they are afflicted with some misterious, severe or uncurable disease.

The biggest consequence of the first complication is that of a progressive isolation from life in general, an impoverishment of life which becomes an impediment to the day-to-day activities of a normal person. The biggest consequence of the second complication is an eternal search for medical care for imagined ills and a general reorientation of life towards constant preoccupation with disease and impending death.

As we have seen above, the crises of panic in phobic patients is provoked by abnormal connections in the ancient part of our brain, the limbic system. When the "emergency alarm" sounds off, the patient starts to feel all the primitive, animal sensations of impending fight or flight, and immediately the brain is flooded by images of catastrophe and failure. The limbic brain reacts to this situation once more by increasing the fear symptoms to even higher levels. Respiration becomes altered, thus leading to significant chemical changes in the blood. Endocrine glands pump hormones, such as adrenaline, into the blood, reinforcing the metabolic changes and again unleashing new crises.

When this level is reached, symptoms become to look very frightening. The patient gets confirmation that the initial symptoms were really indications of a very serious problem. A feeling of great danger ensues on the patient's imagination. Again, the limbic system, commanded by the conscious sensations at the level of the cortex, reacts in the only way it knows: by detonating new panic, new fright and flight.

In this way a vicious circle is formed, holding the phobic patient in its unending grip...

Well until the fifties, the dominant theory of neuroses was that of psychoanalysis, developed by the Austrian physician Sigmund Freud. In simple words, it stated that a psychic symptom is just the tip of an iceberg. It's of no use to remove that tip, because ice floats up again, and the symptom reappears. Therefore, effective treatment should consist in destroying (or rather restructuring...) the whole iceberg, which is possible only after years of analysis.

For all purposes, however, this approach has fallen short of the expectations. After the fifties, new approaches started to be conceived. The first works of the South-African psychiatrist Joseph Wolpe (deceased a few months ago) introduced the concept of "reciprocal inhibition", which was later renamed to "systematic desensitization", based on the work on reflex conditioning of James Watson, in the decade of 20s. Briefly, this great physician started to treat his phobic patients by associating pleasurable sensations and psychic and emotional relaxation to real or imagined situations of fear and avoidance. Since they are incompatible with fear, phobia tended to disappear within a short time. Generally speaking, the treatment of phobias is based on the breakup of the links between unpleasant sensations and the situation or objects which cause the crises. Thus, if the patient reacts with fear upon entering a lift, the vicious circle which incorporates such learning must be broken.

This can be achieved in several ways. The best-known approach is called systematic desensitization. First the patient is trained by techniques of deep relaxation. Following this, the therapist instigates the patient to expose himself, gradually and systematically, to the object or situation which evokes fear. If all goes well, this results in a desensitization, i.e., the patient becomes insensitive to the former phobic stimuli.

After achieving a proper degree of training in relaxion, the patient is invited to write up a list of all his or her fears, since they may be many, and to rank them according to its severity, from the highest to the lowest. Desensitization starts them with the less severe of fears.

Let's use as an example the fear of using lifts. Once the patient is put into a deep state of relaxation, the therapist invites him to imagine that he is standing before a building. At any moment, the patient can beckon to the therapist, indicating that fear is increasing too much, thus interrupting the process. If not, the therapist goes on, deepening the process to a higher fear. Now he invites the patient to imagine that he is going inside the building and has stopped facing the lift doors. If this step is well tolerated by the patient, then he is invited to imagine that he is entering the lift, but that the doors are not going to close now. These steps go on, until the patient is able to tolerate with no fear that he is inside a lift crowded with people, in a tall building, moving and stopping momentarily with closed doors.

Once this phobia is succesfully treated, the therapist moves on to the next one, until all remaining in the list are desensitized. A successful resource is to monitor the physiological changes which accompany fear by using biofeedback equipment. Vital parameters such as heartbeat, frequency of breathing and the galvanic response of the skin (GSR) are recorded by computerized equipment and thus allowing for a more objectvie assessment of the changes (see the article on biofeedback in Brain & Mind) Another modern variant is that of virtual desensitization. In this approach, the patient faces his fears not by imagining the situations, as in the conventional therapy, but by actually living them in a virtual environment generated by a computer. Generally the patient's pulse or GSR are monitored, and as soon as the therapist detects a significant increase, the computer-generated imagery is frozen and relaxation is induced by a suitable technique.

Other alternative and complementary forms of therapy have also been used. For example, the panic disorder has been treated by administering specific medication (generally a drug which acts on the brain neurotransmitter called serotonin, involved with affective disorders) and then encouraging the medicated patient to undergo exposure to the real, fear-elicitint situation, alone or in company of the therapist. Exposure is carried out in an orderly, graded and progressive fashion. Since the medication blocks out the development of anxiety or panic, eventually the brain link to phobia subsidizes and after a few exposures phobia is usually cured.

In phobias where no panic attacks are involved, an useful therapeutic method is called "stress flooding". With the patient's consent, the brain is flooded with strong and repetitive images of the phobic stimuli, until the brain "perceives" that there is no real danger associated with them. Interesting results have been described for this method, and it seems that it works well with phobias associated with the panic disorder.

Finally, another promising method is called EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing), which was originally devised to treat post-traumatic stress disorders. In this recent form of therapy (it is in use for little longer than 10 years), the two brain hemispheres are alternately stimulated with eye movements, tactile or auditory stimuli, at the same time that the therapist brings the patient to relive the thoughts, sensations and images related to the phobia. In this way, so the theory says, memories are reprocessed and the original phobic links are erased.

My own clinical experience is mainly in systematic desensitization therapy, which I have used for the last 15 years, and with biofeedback, in the last two years. My recent training with EMDR has me led to believe that it provides real promising effective treatment.

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