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News » Deep End

Be Very Afraid

BYU neuroscientists are getting fat off the fear factor.



Editor’s note: We still haven’t heard anything from “D.P. Sorensen,” or from anyone living under that name. In the meantime, an unmarked envelope was slipped under our door late last night containing a list of scientific studies now under way at Brigham Young University. Apparently, these studies are being done by the same neuroscientists who recently announced that they have located the region of brain—the medial prefrontal cortex—responsible for women’s fear of getting fat [“Many Women May Be Afraid of Gaining Weight, April 14, Deseret News].

These groundbreaking studies all demonstrate the same scientific rigor that characterizes the fear-of-getting-fat studies.

Each study focuses on a particular phobia and locates the brain region in which the pathology originates. Eventually, according to the BYU neuroscientists, skilled technicians will be able to drill a hole in the skull, on an outpatient basis, and inject a chemical targeting a specific brain region, thus neutralizing the offending fear or phobia.

The most fearless study of fears by the BYU neuroscientists is perhaps fear of dying, or thanatophobia, funded by the American Society of Undertakers. It is posited that a substantial percentage of the human population is afflicted with the fear of shuffling off this mortal coil, technically known as kicking the bucket. Many euphemisms exist for the cessation of human life: buying the farm, going to our reward, meeting our maker, checking out, gone fishin’, pushing up daisies, giving up the ghost, cashing in the chips, flying south, biting the big taco, moving to Draper and sleeping the big sleep.

The profusion of euphemism suggests a distinct discomfort on the part of humans with regard to their ceasing to exist. A few time-tested palliatives still offer comfort: religion, drink, clogging and listening to sports radio. Scientists have tentatively located the brain region responsible for this phobia—the cingulate frontal fornix— but so far, injections aimed at this region, while they have cured the phobia, have the unfortunate side effect of producing a 100 percent death rate of laboratory subjects, who, in most cases, were volunteers from the community.

Another promising study centers on the fear of being skinny, known in technical literature as boneyphobia. Just as they did in their study of the female fear of getting fat, BYU neuroscientists utilized a functional MRI machine to scan the brains of experimental subjects as they viewed computer-generated images. In the skinny study, well-upholstered women were shown images of emaciated women, who, for some reason, were jumping up and down on trampolines. Results have yet to be evaluated, but researchers secretly tailing the research volunteers reported back to the neuroscientists that an unusual number of them went straight to McDonald’s for a supersize doublecheeseburger extra value meal. An insignificant number of the volunteers started bouncing around the research lab.

In the future, according to the research prospectus, the BYU neuroscientists plan to do indepth studies of other well-known human fears. Already they have assembled a team of experts to look into the vexing fear of stepping on chewing gum, or viscomasticophobia. This fear is said to originate in the orthosino lateral crevice, which in most people is situated below the tubular morsel.

BYU neuroscientists are particularly excited about a longitudinal study of the fear of bowling shoes still warm from being worn by strangers, the official name for which has so far stumped the hard-working scientists. This study has stretched the ingenuity of the scientists to the breaking point, owing to the difficulty of hooking subjects up to the functional MRI apparatus. Just as they are peacefully lying in the coffin-like machine and the MRI starts banging away, some busybody comes along and wrestles a pair of bowling shoes onto their feet. Quite understandably, the subjects go completely bonkers.

A very practical study will be ready in a month or so, relevant to summer footwear. The BYU neuroscientists have done a definitive study of vestapodophobia, or the fear of men wearing socks and sandals at the same time.

The fear originates in the posterior subbasal rathbone, and has been traced to the influx of Norwegian tourists in the Eisenhower era.

The most vexing of all human fears is indisputably anthropogooberophobia, or fear of Mr. Peanut, the beloved Planters mascot. In some instances, coming upon a life-size Mr. Peanut cutout at the supermarket has resulted in people losing their minds. Until they tackle that phobia, the BYU neuroscientists will study the next most vexing fear: neuronuttophobia, or fear of BYU neuroscientists.