Psychology Behind Fear and Its Impact on People

Psychology Behind Fear and Its Impact on People


Fear is a primary human emotion that occurs whenever we feel the presence of any danger or threat around us. It affects both physiological and psychological factors. There are many instances in our day-to-day life when we feel fear like getting late to a class, or not being able to pass an exam. It can also be the reason for many psychological disorders like developing phobias, anxiety disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and depression.

What could be the psychological reason for fear?

How does evolution affect fears?

If we ask someone what they fear more about a tsunami or lions? Many people would say that lion. But what makes us say that? For this evolutionary psychology could be the reason behind this. It is our ancestor’s fear that shaped today’s behaviour. Ever since the human race came its existence, one of the famous biologists, Charles Darwin gave a theory of natural selection. Many psychologists also agree on the fact that this theory helps a lot in understanding the mental processes that have evolved over a period of time.

It has played an important role in human survival as it leads to the prevention of many life-threatening situations. Fight or flight is the response to the evolution of fear. This physiological reaction occurs when there is a stressful situation. The dangers that may faced by our ancestors led to phobias particularly like like fear of heights, fear of snakes, and fear of darkness.

How do conditioning and learning fear affect fear?

As we know it can be a result of traumatic incidents that happened to someone in their life. Classical conditioning plays a very important role in understanding how it is acquired through conditioning. Whenever a neutral stimulus is repeatedly paired with fear-inducing stimuli, it leads to the development of various phobias. Many other factors of learning and conditioning affect fear.

  • External factors: many external factors like the culture a person grows in, the kind of relationships he shares with others, individual upbringing, and the kind of environment one faces at home contribute to the development of fear in a person.
  • Biological factor: certain biological factors like genetics, brain structures, and neurochemicals play an important for an individual’s facing and responding to this fear conditioning.
  • Individual experiences: the types a person faces in his life like personal experiences and any trauma that they may experience in their life may influence the fear.
How do cognitive factors affect fear?

When it comes to cognitive factors, our mental processes, and perception do play a role in understanding it. How we interpret the potential threats from the dangers, greatly impacts the fear responses. Sometimes by understanding these fear-influenced situations, we can gain some control over all these situations in the future.

Other cognitive processes like attention also influence our fear. Like whenever we pay our attention to negative stimuli directly we will tend to develop fear within ourselves. However, if we shift our attention to neutral stimuli, the intensity of these fear-inducing stimuli will automatically decrease.

How do our minds respond to these fearful emotions?

Since our emotions play a crucial role in our lives and help to understand our feelings. Emotions can be anger, love, fear, etc. Fearful emotions can be dangerous for individuals as they can range from very mild anxiety to extremely terrifying fears that can influence one’s daily life.

1) The physiological response

It is very important to understand that fear is physical. Our body starts alerting our nervous system as soon as we feel fear around us.

  • Releasing of stress hormones: Many hormones start releasing like adrenaline and cortisol, which begin sharpening our system and start providing the energy to deal with threats. Some of the physical activities that happen are our heart starts increasing, start breather at a very fast rate.
  • Arousal of mind: Our body also becomes hyper-alert, and focus gets increased to eventually deal with the potential threat.
2) The cognitive response

As cognition mainly possesses our mental processes, our mind’s response to fear may result in difficulty in decision-making, and problem-solving that eventually leads to making a very irrational decision.

  • Irrational thinking and difficulty in solving problems: It can also lead to distorted thought processes and cause us to interpret negative thoughts about situations a person faces.
  • Activation of the amygdala: Another important response could be the activation of the amygdala. Though it is a small part of your brain it plays a big part. It detects the dangers and activates response to fear.
3) The behavioural responses
  • Socially withdrawing: Fear can interrupt our daily life activities and sometimes also lead people to isolate themselves, and can lead to disabling one growth.
  • Developing avoidance behaviour: Another response could be developing avoidance behaviour in life. Sometimes people who have a stage fear might start avoiding all those activities that influence stage performance, and this will hinder their personal growth and miss out on some life-changing opportunities in life.

Coping with fear

We need to come out of the shell of fear. So that we can understand our potential and gain control over our fears. Therefore, there are many techniques, and strategies through which one can cope with their fears.

  • Shifting your mind towards peacefulness: Change in the negative thoughts and understanding the fact that some emotions cannot be prevented lead your mind towards peacefulness.
  • Self-care: Taking care of your health can also help to cope with your fear. Eating healthy, sleeping well and a walk could make changes.
  • Exposure therapy: Continuous exposure to our feature will eventually decrease the intensity of the fear and can promote adaptability.
  • Spending time with family: Spending time with your family and telling them about your fears would help in many ways
  • Spending time with your family and telling them about your fears would help in many ways
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