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Have you ever wondered where our fears come from ! Emotions in science

Have you ever wondered where our fears come from
It is generally believed that the root cause of all fear is our brain. But how did it happen?



Fear seems easy to identify and define. Learn from the definition of pornography in ancient judicial decisions-when we feel it, we know it. It may be difficult to express this feeling in words. G. Stanley Hall, the first chairman of the American Psychological Association, described fear as a  premonition of pain , which seems to be a good general definition. For example, fear of violence, expected pain; fear of falling out of love, losing the person you love; and fear of shark and plane crashes, etc.

In addition to a comprehensive definition, we need to understand the role of fear in our lives, and we need to examine the levels and types of fears that may plague us.


When you feel an imminent threat, there will be a strong warning, such as the car is about to hit me. And some kind of rigid and scattered hunch, you can not pinpoint its root cause-this is wrong, I am not safe. This anxiety will continue to grow-I am about to fail the exam, this interview will fail, and I have finished my life. This is the difference between fear and anxiety. In general, fear is thought to be caused by obvious current threats, and you feel fear in anticipation of danger. Anxiety stems from less obvious concerns: it looks like fear, but there is no clear reason.

The distinction between fear and anxiety may be blurred, and even it may be a useful or even necessary boundary. But letting go of the obvious problems of threats aside, our "fear" response is a problem.


Scientists who study our emotional life distinguish between different types of emotions. There are some major emotions, our most basic, almost universal reactions, which are present in different cultures, even appear in other species, or at least appear to us , fear, anger, Surprise, sadness and happiness.

Think of them as primary colors as the basic elements of the entire emotional rainbow. Just like the combination of red and blue can be used to create all purple, you can imagine that some more precise feelings are created by native emotions. For example, terror is a mixture of fear and disgust, and maybe there are some shadows of anger and surprise. Joy may be happiness, but there is also a little surprise. And so on.

Of all these, fear may be the most studied. But what does it mean to study fear? What can we mean by "fear" in scientific research? This is a more complicated problem than you think.

Scientists often study animal fear by measuring the animal's response to threatening or unpleasant stimuli, such as the freezing response of mice when they receive a slight electric shock. Scientists have more choices and a wider range of tools when studying humans. Most importantly, humans can report themselves verbally or in writing: yes, I feel fear.

To further complicate matters, the two reactions of freezing and feeling are independent and different. As neuroscientist Joseph LeDoux said, physical fear responses and emotional fear feelings are produced by two different mechanisms in the body.

For a long time, the so-called common sense school or the Darwinian school believed that feeling was firstly a response to fear stimuli, and secondly a physical response. But this is more of an assumption than a proven mechanism, which is no longer popular today. Instead, when science has turned its attention to more elaborate mechanisms that are elusive, neuroscientist Antonio Damasio puts forward an answer. He thinks that the feeling of fear actually comes from what we usually think of as an attachment to emotions. Products or adjacent body reactions.


Damasio made an unusual distinction between emotions, in particular he refers to the physical and measurable response of the body to emotional stimuli, that is, the body ’s fear response-and feeling-in our minds An indistinguishable distinction is made between intangible emotional expressions. He wrote in ,Looking for Spinoza that we tend to consider recession because the source of expression. Emotions (here, physical reactions) and related phenomena are the inspiration of sensation, the psychology that forms the cornerstone of our minds event.

All organisms have different abilities to respond to stimuli, from simple startle reflexes or retraction movements to more complex multi-part reactions, just like our physical fear process described above, this is Damasio's "emotion". Some of the more basic reactions sometimes look like expressions of fear in our eyes, and in fact, the mechanisms that govern these reactions also involve more complex processes. Unlike the "fear" reactions in some simpler organisms (poke sensitive plants and watch their leaves curl up), our emotions can be generated by real current memories or even imagined stimuli . This is the talent and burden of the human mind.

When incoming news with news of the body's physical fear state changes these mappings, it is the feeling itself. Your brain knows from your body: your heart is beating, your pupils are dilating, and your goose bumps are attracting attention-your brain says after calculation, ah, I'm scared!

The philosopher and psychologist William James wrote in his 1884 paper "What is Emotion": If we imagine some kind of strong emotion and then try to abstract all the sensations of its physical symptoms from our consciousness, then I found that we have nothing left, and there is no "thought" that can constitute emotion, only the cold and neutral state of intellectual perception ... If there is no rapid heartbeat, poor breathing, trembling lips, limb weakness, visceral convulsions, it will stay What kind of fear emotions, it is completely impossible for me to come.

Damasio continued James' research. But he didn't just rely on Victorian philosophy to prove, he also started from case studies and his own research, such as the case of a Parkinson's disease patient in Paris.


This lady is 65 years old and has no history of depression or other mental illnesses. She is undergoing an experimental treatment for the symptoms of Parkinson's disease. It involves using electrical current to stimulate the brainstem's motor control area through tiny electrodes. The other 19 patients received this treatment and were successful. But when the current entered the lady's brain, she stopped chatting with the doctor, lowered her eyes, and her face drooped. After a few seconds she began to cry, "I've had enough ... I don't want to live ... I think I'm worthless." The panicked researcher stopped the current, and she stopped crying in less than ninety seconds, her His face turned ruddy and his sadness dissipated. She asked, "What happened just now?"

It was later confirmed that the electrodes were inadvertently misaligned at that time and did not stimulate the area that controlled her tremor, but activated the part of the brainstem that controls a series of actions of facial muscles, mouth, throat and diaphragm-these actions make us frown Pouting and crying. Her body was not stimulated by sad movies or bad news, but she showed sad emotions, and her thoughts turned into darkness. This feeling comes from the body, and her thoughts follow her body.

This whole thing seems counter-intuitive and is completely contrary to common sense. But if you think about your fear experience, how do you recall and explain to others? In fact, most of the things you think of are physical feelings: discomfort in the internal organs, tightness in the chest, even dizziness or shortness of breath. Think again about how you actually experience feelings of happiness, contentment, or relaxation, which manifests as an elongation of tense muscle relaxation in your forehead and chin, neck, and shoulders. Your eyes are wide, your eyes are not squinted, your breath is long. Or think about how pure physical deep grief is ruining your body and mind. When I think about the worst grief after the death of my loved one, I remember headache, fatigue, tight chest, heavy feeling and lethargy. I feel sad, yes, more sad than before, it is my body that tells me how sad I am.

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