Brain Scan of Alex Honnold


Original Post
Eric Carlos · · GJ · Joined Aug 2008 · Points: 30

http://nautil.us/issue/39/sport/the-strange-brain-of-the-worlds-greatest-solo-climber interesting article about Honnold not having fear.

Brad Vanor · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Apr 2014 · Points: 0

Interesting. I wonder if it's an adaptation due to his climbing experience or just the way he was neurologically wired since birth.

Warrior · · Rock City, GA · Joined Sep 2015 · Points: 15

Food for thought Mr Carlos!

Similar experiments have been done in trading (real) money, and the result people who have "gray" amygdalas a la Honnold performed better than "normal" amygdalas. It wasn't that the "gray" group was careless or reckless, in fact, they followed good risk parameters and stopped out losers quickly, but also let winning trades run much longer than "normals", ignoring the disposition effect that most "normals" are affected by... TFPU

Ted Pinson · · Chicago, IL · Joined Jul 2014 · Points: 45

Brad, it's almost certainly something Alex was born with.

that guy named seb · · Britland · Joined Oct 2015 · Points: 0
Ted Pinson wrote:Brad, it's almost certainly something Alex was born with.
I think it's pretty inconclusive as to if it's a adaptation or not.
Ted Pinson · · Chicago, IL · Joined Jul 2014 · Points: 45

Things like this are usually genetic, and it tracks well with Alex's life story. Things that freak out most people have always been "no big deal" to him.

that guy named seb · · Britland · Joined Oct 2015 · Points: 0
Ted Pinson wrote:Things like this are usually genetic, and it tracks well with Alex's life story. Things that freak out most people have always been "no big deal" to him.
Yeah except when he has freaked out, multiple times, read his book.
JohnReg · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Oct 2015 · Points: 10

An aside that is meaningless in your lives: In an evolutionary sense, adaptations are always genetic. You have to be able to pass the trait to the next generation for it to be an adaptation. Acquired or learned traits cannot be passed on and so cannot be adaptations.

Most top athletes are genetically predisposed to excel in their sport. Since it is olympic time, Phelps is great example. He processes lactic acid differently in a way that gives him an advantage and his body does things, like the angles he can achieve with his ankles, that most humans can't do. Though we have not bothered to identify the genes that help him, those advantages, like Alex's brain and fear, are almost certainly genetic.

Maybe I am genetically predisposed to semantic arguments and that's why I am drawn to evolutionary biology.

Ted Pinson · · Chicago, IL · Joined Jul 2014 · Points: 45

Thank you for sparing me the time and effort to explain, lol.

Will S · · Joshua Tree · Joined Nov 2006 · Points: 998
Brad Vanor wrote:Interesting. I wonder if it's an adaptation due to his climbing experience or just the way he was neurologically wired since birth.
That was my reaction too.

I was completely terrified of heights as a kid and into my first year or two of climbing. The gradual desensitization pretty much eliminated it over time (although maybe I can just control my reaction now? Maybe my amygdala is firing like a x-mas tree and I can just suppress it?)

These days, hanging out halfway up a bigwall just seems like a good view, not pee-my-pants terrifying. Before climbing, there was no way in hell you could have gotten me to be in that kind of exposure.
Ted Pinson · · Chicago, IL · Joined Jul 2014 · Points: 45

"Genetics has a clearer role in the personality traits that have helped motivate Honnold’s ropeless climbing. Sensation seeking is thought to be partly heritable, and can be passed down from parents to their children. The trait is associated with lower anxiety and a blunted response to potentially dangerous situations. One result can be a tendency to underestimate risks, which a recent study linked to an imbalance caused by low amygdala reactivity and less effective inhibition of sensation seeking by the prefrontal cortex."

=born with it, then he cultivated his natural ability.

ViperScale · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Dec 2013 · Points: 165

He has fear... at around 1 min 10 secs you see him completely freak out, he just has learned to control it. He may have had natural DNA that made him better at it but I have even found myself in situations that years ago I would have completely freaked out and found myself perfectly fine now.

To bad they don't have baseline values for before he started climbing to compare to now.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uQb4_8PyZBM

Ted Pinson · · Chicago, IL · Joined Jul 2014 · Points: 45

Obviously, anyone can learn how to manage fear and even desensitize themselves to previously terrifying stimuli; anyone who climbs and develops "lead head" has to do this.

Not everyone eventually free solos Half Dome.

Drew Spaulding · · Boulder, CO · Joined Aug 2009 · Points: 3,118

We are not adrenaline junkies.... Adrenaline is poison!

slc.underscore.dan · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Jan 2016 · Points: 0
Drew Spaulding wrote:We are not adrenaline junkies.... Adrenaline is poison!
In the beginning of the article it kept saying that, and I had a similar reaction. Near the end of the article it said a High Sensation Seeker, that makes a lot more sense.
tim naylor · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Mar 2004 · Points: 370

endorphine junkies ?

kenr · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Oct 2010 · Points: 9,691

The brain is pretty complicated, so usually there are different configurations of activation and connectivity which can result in the same external behaviors and the same conscious perceptions and judgments.

So like for this case of being able to make unprotected climbing moves without being overwhelmed by fear ...

(a) you can train lower-level warning perception detectors not to fire, by repeatedly exposing them to threatening situations (like standing near the edge of a cliff). So the amygdala does not get activated simply because it's not receiving any perceptual warning signals.

(b) you can have an less-responsive amygdala which just does not get activated so much by danger-warning signals.

(c) you can train your higher-level rational centers to ignore activation of the amygdala, or to sent out counter-signals to reduce the influence of the amygdala's activation on other areas of the brain.

Alex Honnold may have an advantage on (b), but the rest of us can still make big improvements in our ability to climb solo by working on (a) and (c).

Ken

P.S. Anyway if you replace every occurrence of "amygdala" in that (over-long) article with the words "some brain center yet undiscovered", it doesn't change the meaning or implications much.
- (unless you're planning to improve your soloing by implanting sn electrode while you climb, or taking a drug which targets a specific brain area).

Ryan Hamilton · · Orem · Joined Aug 2011 · Points: 0
that guy named seb wrote: Yeah except when he has freaked out, multiple times, read his book.
I've read his book and I read the article (found both very interesting). It's clear that Alex's level of freaking out isn't on the same level as most humans.

The down side for Alex is that he also requires a great deal more danger/thrill to get any level of excitement out of something. Some people can get the thrill of their lives out of a top roped 5.6, some require that they free Moonlight Buttress, and Alex doesn't get a thrill unless he's pulling a crazy move, unroped, 2000 ft. off the deck.
vietgoeswest · · Portland · Joined Jan 2012 · Points: 35
ViperScale wrote:He has fear... at around 1 min 10 secs you see him completely freak out, he just has learned to control it. He may have had natural DNA that made him better at it but I have even found myself in situations that years ago I would have completely freaked out and found myself perfectly fine now. To bad they don't have baseline values for before he started climbing to compare to now.
if my memory serves me correctly AH talked about that particular foot slip on the Enormocast. He wasn't that freaked out as the video makes it look.
Allen Sanderson · · Oootah · Joined Jul 2007 · Points: 1,115
Morgan Patterson · · CT · Joined Oct 2009 · Points: 8,332

Seems like more self control and not some genetic adaptation.

Guideline #1: Don't be a jerk.

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