by Admin
Updated: July 7, 2018

We have outgrown the need for fear to help us survive dangers without understanding them

Most people are afraid of something. Unfortunately, most fears are mis-placed and, even worse, our responses to them tend to make our situation worse. Natural fear responses support survival in most animals but when those animals have nuclear weapons it’s time to evolve things up a notch.

Fear is an automatic response to a perceived danger. It can be invoked by an external situation and/or something internal such as a feeling, realization or memory.

Fear in the normal sense is an immediate response. Experienced over time, fear moves into the domains of chronic stress and anxiety.

Fear can be good for your health

As a type of acute stress, fear can bring some benefits. It sharpens senses and awareness. It leads to enhanced abilities by modifying blood flow, producing powerful brain chemicals etc. And it can cultivate increased self-confidence provided you prevail.

When you fight the monster and win, you feel really good.

Fear is quick

As a mechanism for survival, fear has proven to be very effective: It works at a fundamental level, bypassing any cognitive ability, i.e. it’s fast and it doesn’t rely on intelligence.

Maybe not all monsters want to harm you, but fear takes no chances.

Fight, flight, freeze

After millions of years of evolution, if you’re threatened by an animal, one of three natural reactions - counter-attacking, running away, or staying still - will still serve you well.

Even so, it’s not guaranteed that your reaction will be the right one. Most monsters might like things that move, but some similar-looking monsters might prefer things that stay still.

It’s all more complicated now

Flying is something relatively new in human history. If you’re on an aircraft in an emergency, any of our basic panic-driven reactions is likely to make matters worse for everyone.

Modern monsters take many diverse & unfamiliar forms which are so new that, even if we were genetically selecting to recognize them, there hasn’t been enough time to adapt.

We have evolved (sort of)

Although fear bypasses our understanding, one reason our brains have such a capability is that it improved our ability to survive in more complex and changing environments.

Through learning, we can modify our responses.

The learning experience can be direct exposure - facing your fears - but other methods may be more effective, such as incremental exposure, training, conscious effort, peer reinforcement etc.

But we all still have the basic fear response.

As a result of natural selection, those that didn’t have adequate fear responses got killed by monsters before they could pass on their genes.

And new fears can be acquired...

New fears from experience

Experiences create/reinforce neural pathways and those formed by bad experiences can hook into the fear response and hence to fight, flight, freeze without us consciously being aware of it.

If all the monsters have only one eye, you might become afraid of all one-eyed things. This might be sensible. It might also be problematic.

New fears from perception

As a consequence of selecting against mutations (most of which are bad) & sickness, resisting invaders etc, one of the most basic triggers for fear is encountering something that seems different.

You don’t look like one of us, so you must be one of them!

Decisions and policies

While an adequate fear response for an individual might be avoidance, this does not remove the threat to the community at large. A primitive fear-based social reaction would be prejudice, hatred and ultimately violence in order to remove it.

In an advanced society - and one that is advancing rapidly - the perceived dangers become increasingly disconnected from the real dangers. The result is that fear-based reactions not only help us less than ever but have become dangers themselves.

We have outgrown the old ways and the need for more appropriate & rational solutions grows more critical to our survival.

Improved education & experience can be shown to overcome fears and lead to better decisions for individuals. However, extending this to the entire society is more challenging.

More info

Brain chemicals described in ,“The Health Benefits of Being Scared” at furthermore.equinox.com.

“Your fear reaction is lightning quick” at sciencenordic.com.

Insights into the mechanisms involved in freezing and the shift to fight-or-flight action in humans at ncbi.nlm.nih.gov.

“Outsmarting Our Primitive Responses to Fear” at nytimes.com.

“The Biology of Fear” at ncbi.nlm.nih.gov.

“The Little Albert Experiment” at psychologized.org.

“15 Things That Look Like Cookie Monster” at buzzfeed.com.

Internal links

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