Shocking Pac-Man Helps Scientists with Fear StudiesS

A version of Pac-Man that administers electric shocks to gamers has been shedding light on how the human brain reacts to danger. Researchers at the Wellcome Trust Center for Neuroimaging at UCL found that the closer the gamers got to danger, the more impulsive was their response. "In effect, the less free will you will have," explained the study leader, Dean Mobbs.

Volunteers were asked to try and outrun a virtual predator who was stalking them round a maze. If he caught up with them, Bzzzzzt! they were given a shock to the hand.

If the ghostie was far away, players used the prefrontal cortex region of the brain, which deals with complex planning tasks. If the ghostie got up close and personal with Pac-Man, brain activity shifted to the periaqueductal gray, a more primitive area which governs quick-response survival mechanisms, such as fight, flight or freeze.

The research will be used to help scientists better understand anxiety disorders, such as panic attacks. [Guardian Unlimited]