In the weeks since the death of Florida teen Trayvon Martin, the national uproar at the circumstances around the event has been profound. While the facts are still emerging, it seems clear that a heightened sense of threat and fear on the part of shooter George Zimmerman played a significant role in the tragedy. All this more than 60 years after the lynching of 14 yr old Emmett Till led to the growth of the American civil rights movement. Can the workings of the human brain help us understand and perhaps thwart this conundrum?
A good place to start may be the sensitive neural circuitry dedicated to detecting and reacting to threat. One of these regions, the orbital frontal cortex (OFC), is responsible for integrating information from various brain areas, including visceral emotions, in an attempt to facilitate decision making. Current neuroimaging evidence suggests that the OFC is involved in analyzing our available options to a stimulus, and communicates its decisions by creating emotions that are supposed to help you make decisions.