Fear is one of the basic human emotions. We all experience it. But how does it work? Why do we fear the things we do? Besides a basic emotion, what is fear? Fear is a chain reaction that your brain begins when presented with a stressful stimulus and ends with a release of chemicals which cause the typical signs of fear such as; a racing heart, fast breathing, and many others.
The concept of fear is almost completely controlled by your brain. Your brain is a very complex organ that contains billions of nerve cells to create different reactions. Fear is what is known as an “autonomous reaction”, meaning you don’t usually consciously trigger it, instead it seems to happen on its own. There are specific parts of your brain that take over each element of the process to trigger something like fear. There are five main parts of the brain that play big roles in this. The Thalamus is the part of your brain that decides where to send any sensory data it receives, whether that be your eyes, ears, mouth, or another part of your body. The second role is played by your Sensory Cortex, this is where the sensory data earlier sent gets interpreted. After the stimulus has been interpreted, your Hippocampus puts it into context. This part of your brain is what stores conscious memories and is able to retrieve them to put new data into context. In the second to final step, your Amygdala determines your emotions toward the stimulus and tries to find a possible threat. The final step occurs in your Hypothalamus, this is what determines your “fight or flight” response in the situation.
We are born with natural fears along with the ones we develop throughout our lifetime. According to CNN, the two innate fears we all have are; the fear of falling, and the fear of loud sounds. In a 1960 study, it was concluded that the fear of falling is a necessary instinct for the survival of many species. Along with this, the fear of loud sounds comes from the fact that loud sounds normally lead to something startling or some kind of danger, therefore making the way we may duck away or jump is a simple instinct and response we don’t consciously control. Despite these two specific fears, most are learned. At a young age, we learn to fear certain things because something from our environment or culture tells us that we should fear that thing. However, as we get older, our fears form from association. Association with past experiences or things told to us could make us fear whatever we are associating.
Although fear may not be pleasant for some people, it’s proven to have been a survival mechanism for humans for a long time.
Story by Krislynn Hawkins