What is fear? Where does it come from? Why does it play such an important role in our lives? From the earliest moments of our lives, fear is intimately woven into our being. We are literally wired for it. Deep within our brains lies the Amygdala. (See below.) This part of us guarantees that in our most primal interpretations or perceptions of our relative safety as it relates to our survival, our bodies will physiologically react to what we’re afraid of or threatened by, physically, mentally or spiritually. So we have that “flight or fight” thing going for us, which is nice. However, because we’ve also been blessed with every other part of our gray matter, we also learn. Fortunately for us our learned behavior also develops from a very early age. We learn how to survive as much or possibly more from the daily influences and experiences in our lives than our genetic predisposition for survival.
“The amygdalae (singular: amygdala; /əˈmɪɡdələ/; also corpus amygdaloideum; Latin, from Greek ἀμυγδαλή, amygdalē, ‘almond’, ‘tonsil’), listed in the Gray’s Anatomy textbook as the nucleus amygdalæ, are almond-shaped groups of nuclei located deep and medially within the temporal lobes of the brain in complex vertebrates, including humans. Shown in research to perform a primary role in the processing of memory, decision-making, and emotional reactions, the amygdalae are considered part of the limbic system.”
In my opinion, human behavior is the most fascinating thing on the planet to study. I first became interested in this phenomenon during my college years at Penn State. Although most of my time was spent trying to experiment with my own destructive behavioral theories, on occasion I would immerse myself into the various psychology, sociology, religious and history courses offered as a counter-balance to my fine arts schedule. It was in these classes that I discovered the fascinating depths to which human behavior has been researched. One piece of the puzzle that seemed to really stand out for me, due to the magnitude of my own fears at the time, was why fear plays such a major role in our lives.
Thankfully, after having my first epiphany during the spring of my fourth year, I was awakened to the fact that I needed to confront these fears head on. This was the main reason I decided to join the Navy in order to achieve my quest of becoming a Navy SEAL. I figured what better place to begin to understand fear than having to willingly confront fear every single day while going through training, or being in a platoon deploying overseas. And to top it off I decided that I needed to become a combat medic too, just to make sure that I would have the complete spectrum of fear available in my adventures.
After eights years in the Teams, which included my fair share of fearful moments during 15 months of BUDS, working in the ERs and riding on the ambulances of New York City and San Antonio, two platoons, and working as an instructor putting over 200 students through and participating myself in thousands of high risk training evolutions, my perception of fear took on an incredibly unique perspective. That perspective was tested on every level during my first trip to Afghanistan in the summer of 2002. Nothing can totally prepare you for what happens during wartime experiences. Fear is the deciding factor of whether you perform or not. Performance in combat is gauged by the very real and palpable factor of survival. You either learn how to embrace your fears or the probability of death becomes significantly elevated. It’s that simple.
Fear is one of the most powerful innate emotions we’ve been blessed with. It’s a firm and reliable piece of tactical gear. After my experience in the SEAL Teams I have continued to explore, research and experience the different spectrums of Fear and how it plays a role in every part of our lives. It can help you in every situation if you choose to understand it like I have. Or it can be the most corrosive, inhibitive, debilitating presence in your life. Over the course of the next 6 weeks I will introduce you to my motivational training program called Froglogic. After 20 years of experiential learning and study, I’ve created a simple, common sense approach to learning how to Embrace Fear. It’s my mission to help you develop the behavioral tools needed to turn this age-old problem into an asset ready to be deployed against the Negative Insurgency. By the end of this training program, fear will no longer be something you’re afraid of.
For a quick start reference point please read this fascinating information posted on the site Wikipedia. HOOYAH
Definition of Fear:
Fear is an emotion induced by a threat perceived by living entities, which causes a change in brain and organ function and ultimately a change in behavior, such as running away, hiding or freezing from traumatic events. Fear may occur in response to a specific stimulus happening in the present, or to a future situation, which is perceived as risk to health or life, status, power, security, or in the case of humans wealth or anything held valuable. The fear response arises from the perception of danger leading to confrontation with or escape from/avoiding the threat (also known as the fight-or-flight response), which in extreme cases of fear (horror and terror) can be a freeze response or paralysis.
In humans and animals, fear is modulated by the process of cognition and learning. Thus fear has been judged as rational or appropriate and irrational or inappropriate. An irrational fear is called a phobia. Psychologists such as John B. Watson, Robert Plutchik, and Paul Ekman have suggested that there is only a small set of basic or innate emotions and that fear is one of them.
Causes of Fear:
People develop specific fears as a result of learning. This has been studied in psychology as fear conditioning, beginning with John B. Watson’s Little Albert experiment in 1920, which was inspired after observing a child with an irrational fear of dogs. In this study, an 11-month-old boy was conditioned to fear a white rat in the laboratory. The fear became generalized to include other white, furry objects, such as a rabbit, dog, and even a ball of cotton.
Fear can be learned by experiencing or watching a frightening traumatic accident. For example, if a child falls into a well and struggles to get out, he or she may develop a fear of wells, heights (acrophobia), enclosed spaces (claustrophobia), or water (aquaphobia). There are studies looking at areas of the brain that are affected in relation to fear. When looking at these areas (such as the amygdala), it was proposed that a person learns to fear regardless of whether they themselves have experienced trauma, or if they have observed the fear in others. In a study completed by Andreas Olsson, Katherine I. Nearing and Elizabeth A. Phelps the amygdala were affected both when subjects observed someone else being submitted to an aversive event, knowing that the same treatment awaited themselves, and when subjects were subsequently placed in a fear-provoking situation. This suggests that fear can develop in both conditions, not just simply from personal history.
Fear is affected by cultural and historical context. For example, in the early 20th century, many Americans feared polio, a disease that cripples the body part it affects, leaving that body part immobilized for the rest of one’s life. There are consistent cross-cultural differences in how people respond to fear.Display rules affect how likely people are to show the facial expression of fear and other emotions.
Although many fears are learned, the capacity to fear is part of human nature. Many studies have found that certain fears (e.g. animals, heights) are much more common than others (e.g. flowers, clouds). These fears are also easier to induce in the laboratory. This phenomenon is known as preparedness. Because early humans that were quick to fear dangerous situations were more likely to survive and reproduce, preparedness is theorized to be a genetic effect that is the result of natural selection.
From an evolutionary psychology perspective, different fears may be different adaptations that have been useful in our evolutionary past. They may have developed during different time periods. Some fears, such as fear of heights, may be common to all mammals and developed during the mesozoic period. Other fears, such as fear of snakes, may be common to all simians and developed during the cenozoic time period. Still others, such as fear of mice and insects, may be unique to humans and developed during the paleolithic and neolithic time periods (when mice and insects become important carriers of infectious diseases and harmful for crops and stored foods).
Fear is high only if the observed risk and seriousness both are high, and is low, if risk or seriousness is low.
Process of Fear:
• The thalamus collects sensory data from the senses
• Sensory cortex receives data from thalamus and interprets it
• Sensory cortex organizes information for dissemination to hypothalamus (fight or flight), amygdala (fear), hippocampus (memory)
The brain structure that is the center of most neurobiological events associated with fear is the amygdala, located behind the pituitary gland. The amygdala is part of a circuitry of fear learning. It is essential for proper adaptation to stress and specific modulation of emotional learning memory. In the presence of a threatening stimulus, the amygdala generates the secretion of hormones that influence fear and aggression. Once response to the stimulus in the form of fear or aggression commences, the amygdala may elicit the release of hormones into the body to put the person into a state of alertness, in which they are ready to move, run, fight, etc. This defensive response is generally referred to in physiology as the fight-or-flight response regulated by the hypothalamus, part of the limbic system. Once the person is in safe mode, meaning that there are no longer any potential threats surrounding them, the amygdala will send this information to the medial prefrontal cortex(mPFC) where it is stored for similar future situations, which is known as memory consolidation.
Some of the hormones involved during the state of fight-or-flight include epinephrine, norepinephrine and cortisol. Epinephrine regulates heart rate and metabolism as well as dilating blood vessels and air passages. Norepinephrine increases heart rate, blood flow to skeletal muscles and the release of glucose from energy stores.Cortisol increases blood sugar, demarginalizes neutrophilic leukocytes, increases calcium and much more.
After a situation which incites fear occurs, the amygdala and hippocampus record the event through synaptic plasticity. The stimulation to the hippocampus will cause the individual to remember many details surrounding the situation. Plasticity and memory formation in the amygdala are generated by activation of the neurons in the region. Experimental data supports the notion that synaptic plasticity of the neurons leading to the lateral amygdala occurs with fear conditioning. In some cases, this forms permanent fear responses such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or a phobia. MRI and fMRI scans have shown that the amygdala in individuals diagnosed with such disorders including bipolar or panic disorder is larger and wired for a higher level of fear.
Pathogens can suppress amygdala activity. Rats infected with the toxoplasmosis parasite become less fearful of cats, sometimes even seeking out their urine-marked areas. This behavior often leads to them being eaten by cats. The parasite then reproduces within the body of the cat. There is evidence that the parasite concentrates itself in the amygdala of infected rats. In a separate experiment, rats with lesions in the amygdala did not express fear or anxiety towards unwanted stimuli. These rats pulled on levers supplying food that sometimes sent out electrical shocks. While they learned to avoid pressing on them, they did not distance themselves from these shock-inducing levers.
Several brain structures other than the amygdala have also been observed to be activated when individuals are presented with fearful vs. neutral faces, namely the occipitocerebellar regions including the fusiform gyrus and the inferior parietal / superior temporal gyri. Interestingly, fearful eyes, brows and mouth seem to separately reproduce these brain responses. Scientist from Zurich studies show that the hormone oxytocin related to stress and sex reduces activity in your brain fear center.