What Is Fear?

What Is Fear?
What Is Fear?

Video: What Is Fear?

Video: What is Fear and Why You Feel Scared 2022, December
Anonim

It is dark outside, you are sitting at home alone in silence, when suddenly you hear the sound of a loud bang in the next room. Your breathing quickens. The heart starts to pound. Muscles tense. A split second later, you realize that a branch of a nearby tree has hit the window because of the strong wind. You are safe. Yet for a split second, you were scared and reacted as if something was threatening your life, and your body initiated a fight-or-flight response that is critical to the survival of any living organism. In a series of articles on basic emotions, we understand what fear is.

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What is fear?

Fear is a chain reaction in the brain that starts with a stressful stimulus and ends with the release of chemicals that cause heart palpitations, rapid breathing, and energizing muscles (also known as the fight-or-flight response). The stimulus can be anything: a spider in the bathroom, an aggressive passer-by on the street, an audience full of people waiting for you to speak, or a sudden loud knock on your window.

More than 100 billion nerve cells in the brain make up the complex communication network that is the starting point for everything we feel, think and do. Some of these messages lead to conscious thoughts and actions, while others trigger autonomous responses.

The fear response is almost completely autonomous: we don't consciously trigger it.

Because brain cells are constantly transmitting information and triggering responses, there are dozens of brain regions that are directly and indirectly involved in fear. The following parts of the brain play a central role in this process:

Thalamus - decides where to send incoming sensory data from the eyes, ears, mouth, skin; Sensory cortex - interprets received sensory data; Hippocampus - stores and retrieves conscious memories, processes sets of stimuli to establish context; Almond body - decodes emotions, identifies a possible threat, stores memories of fear. Hypothalamus - activates the "fight or flight" response.

Thus, the process of creating fear begins with a fearful stimulus and ends with a fight-or-flight response. However, between point A and point B, there are two paths for the development of subsequent events, and both processes occur in parallel.

The first way, a quick reaction, the main idea of ​​which is "not to take risks." Yes, something hit your window and it could be the wind, but it could also be a burglar trying to get in. It's far less dangerous to assume it's a burglar and take it easy on the wind than to rely on the weather and realize it's too late that someone has actually broken into your home. This is exactly what happens in the first place: the brain immediately triggers a fast reaction, forcing it to assume a more optimal development of events, after which a second, long reaction is triggered, which clarifies the context. We can say that she "asks" some kind of clarifying questions. The quick process looks like this:

A knock on the window is an incentive. As soon as you hear sound, the brain sends this sensory data to the thalamus. At this stage, the thalamus does not yet know whether the signals are signs of danger or not, but since they may well be such, it sends information to the amygdala. The amygdala receives nerve impulses and takes action to protect you by telling the hypothalamus to initiate a fight-or-flight response that could save your life if what you hear turns out to be an intruder.

The long reaction is much more thoughtful: while the former triggers a fear reaction just in case, the latter considers all options. The long process looks like this:

When your ears hear sound, they transmit this information to the thalamus. The thalamus sends this information to the sensory cortex, where it is interpreted for meaning. The sensory cortex detects the presence of several possible interpretations of the data and passes them on to the hippocampus to establish context. The hippocampus asks questions: “Have I seen this particular stimulus before? If so, what did he mean at that time? What else can give me a clue? " While you were sitting quietly at home, the hippocampus could pick up other data, such as the sound of a strong wind outside. Based on this information, the hippocampus determines that the knocking on the window is most likely the result of wind exposure. It sends a message to the amygdala that there is no danger, and the amygdala, in turn, orders the hypothalamus to turn off the fight-or-flight response.

The sensory data about the window - the stimulus - follows both paths simultaneously, but the second response takes longer than the first. That is why, before we calm down, we experience a moment of horror.

But no matter what kind of reaction we're talking about, all roads lead to the hypothalamus: this part of the brain controls the ancient survival response. To trigger a fight-or-flight response, the hypothalamus activates two systems: the sympathetic nervous system and the adrenal cortex. The sympathetic nervous system uses neural pathways to initiate reactions in the body, and the adrenal cortical system uses blood flow.

When the hypothalamus orders the sympathetic nervous system to turn on, the overall effect is that the body is accelerated, tense, and overall becomes very alert, adrenaline and norepinephrine released. If there is a burglar at the window, you will have to act quickly. At the same time, the hypothalamus releases corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH) into the pituitary gland, activating the adrenal-cortical system. The pituitary gland (the main endocrine gland) secretes the hormone ACTH (adrenocorticotropic hormone). ACTH travels through the bloodstream and eventually enters the adrenal cortex, where it activates the release of about 30 different hormones that prepare the body to fight the threat.

The sudden rush of adrenaline, norepinephrine, and dozens of other hormones causes physiological changes in the body, including:

increased heart rate and blood pressure; dilated pupils so that the eyes can absorb as much light as possible; narrowed veins in the skin to direct more blood to major muscle groups (which is why sometimes people get chills when they are scared); increased blood glucose levels muscle tension, which receives energy from adrenaline and glucose (hence the goosebumps: the tiny muscles attached to each hair tense up and the hair is pulled upward); relaxation of smooth muscles to allow more oxygen to flow into the lungs; shutdown of nonessential systems (digestion and the immune system) to give more energy to emergency functions; trouble concentrating on small tasks (the brain is directed to focus exclusively on the big picture).

All of these physical responses are designed to help us cope with a dangerous situation and prepare us to either flee or fight for our lives. Fear is an instinct that every animal possesses.

Why are we afraid?

If we were not afraid, we would not have lived long: we would have gone out onto the road right under the cars and squeezed poisonous snakes. The purpose of fear in humans and all animals in general is to promote survival.In the course of human evolution, people who feared the right thing survived to pass on their genes, which is why the fear trait and response to it were selected by evolution as useful.

Why do people make a special grimace of fear when they are scared? Charles Darwin said that this is the result of instinctive muscle tension caused by a developed response to fear. To prove his point, he went to the reptile house at the Zoological Gardens of London. Trying to remain completely calm, he stood as close to the glass as possible, and from the other side a viper rushed towards him. Every time she got too close, Darwin winced and jumped.

Most of us are no longer fighting for our lives in the wild, but fear is far from an obsolete instinct. It serves the same purpose today as it did the day before yesterday, when we might have bumped into a wild beast while gathering. The more modern decision not to take a short cut through a deserted courtyard at night is based on a rational fear that promotes survival. Only the incentives have changed, but today we are in the same danger as hundreds of years ago, and our fear protects us just as it did then.

Besides instinct, humans have other factors associated with fear. So, people have the "gift of anticipation": we expect terrible things that can happen, what we hear, read or see on TV. Most of us have never experienced a plane crash, but that doesn't stop us from sitting on the plane and being afraid. That said, expecting a frightening stimulus can trigger the same response as experiencing it - an evolutionary advantage as well. Those people who, having felt the rain, expected lightning and remained in the cave, were more likely not to receive an electric shock of thousands of volts.

Common fears

Some research suggests that humans may be genetically predisposed to fear certain dangerous things, such as spiders, snakes, and rats - animals that were once a real danger to humans because they were poisonous or carried disease.

But while there may be “universal fears,” there are also fears that are specific to individuals, communities, regions, or even cultures. Those who grew up in the city are probably a little more afraid of robbery than those who spent most of their lives in the countryside, and people living in seismically dangerous areas are naturally afraid of earthquakes. What we fear says a lot about our life experiences. There is even a phobia called taijin kyofusho, which is considered a "culturally peculiar phobia in Japan" - this is "the fear of offending other people by being too humble or showing respect." The complex social rituals that are part of life in Japan have led to the emergence of fear specific to the Japanese.

How to deal with fear?

Feeling fear from time to time is a normal part of life, but living with chronic fear can be both physically and emotionally draining. Living with a regularly weakened immune response and high blood pressure causes illness, and refusing to participate in daily activities due to fear does not make life fulfilling.

Uncertainty is an essential component of fear, so if there is something that you are afraid to try because it seems scary or difficult, start small and work in stages. Gradual familiarity with the scary subject makes it more manageable. It will also be helpful to find someone who is not afraid and spend time with him. Take the person with you as you try to conquer your fear; it will become much easier. Finally, talk about it (sharing your fear out loud can make it less intimidating) and don't be afraid to seek help. Fear is not an easy emotion, and if you find it difficult to overcome it on your own, then contact a professional who can help.

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