Thursday, September 29, 2022

What Part Of The Brain Is Responsible For Fear

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Theory Of Biological Preparedness

What Depression and Anxiety Look Like in the Brain

Fear conditioning is a powerful process that occurs very quickly. A single pairing of two such stimuli is sufficient to establish a memory.

According to Martin Seligmans theory of biological preparedness, phobias result from a group of biological associations that the organism is evolutionarily prepared to learn quickly and persistently. Thus, conditioning to fear-relevant stimuli such as snakes, spiders, fearful or angry facial expressions and out-groupfaces are more resistant to extinction and can be consolidated without conscious awareness.

Once learned, conditioned fear responses can last a lifetime. However, fear responses may weaken or extinguish through experiences that show that the conditioned stimulus no longer predicts danger.

Human Brain Is Divided On Fear And Panic

When doctors at the University of Iowa prepared a patient to inhale a panic-inducing dose of carbon dioxide, she was fearless. But within seconds of breathing in the mixture, she cried for help, overwhelmed by the sensation that she was suffocating.

The patient, a woman in her 40s known as SM, has an extremely rare condition called Urbach-Wiethe disease that has caused extensive damage to the amygdala, an almond-shaped area in the brain long known for its role in fear. She had not felt terror since getting the disease when she was an adolescent.

In a paper published online Feb. 3 in the journal Nature Neuroscience , the UI team provides proof that the amygdala is not the only gatekeeper of fear in the human mind. Other regions such as the brainstem, diencephalon , or insular cortexcould sense the bodys most primal inner signals of danger when basic survival is threatened.

This research says panic, or intense fear, is induced somewhere outside of the amygdala, says John Wemmie, associate professor of psychiatry at the UI and senior author on the paper. This could be a fundamental part of explaining why people have panic attacks.

If true, the newly discovered pathways could become targets for treating panic attacks, post-traumatic stress syndrome, and other anxiety-related conditions caused by a swirl of internal emotional triggers.

And Why Some Of Us Just Cant Get Enough Of It

Fear may be as old as life on Earth. It is a fundamental, deeply wired reaction, evolved over the history of biology, to protect organisms against perceived threat to their integrity or existence. Fear may be as simple as a cringe of an antenna in a snail that is touched, or as complex as existential anxiety in a human.

Whether we love or hate to experience fear, its hard to deny that we certainly revere it devoting an entire holiday to the celebration of fear.

Thinking about the circuitry of the brain and human psychology, some of the main chemicals that contribute to the fight or flight response are also involved in other positive emotional states, such as happiness and excitement. So, it makes sense that the high arousal state we experience during a scare may also be experienced in a more positive light. But what makes the difference between getting a rush and feeling completely terrorized?

We are psychiatrists who treat fear and study its neurobiology. Our studies and clinical interactions, as well as those of others, suggest that a major factor in how we experience fear has to do with the context. When our thinking brain gives feedback to our emotional brain and we perceive ourselves as being in a safe space, we can then quickly shift the way we experience that high arousal state, going from one of fear to one of enjoyment or excitement.

But how does your brain do this?



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First How Common Is Anxiety

Anxiety is so much more prevalent in the United States today than is recognized. Currently over 40 million Americans suffer from some form of anxiety EVERYDAY. Anxiety is the experience of environmental stressors which is marked by continued excessive worry, feeling nervous or on edge, sleep abnormalities, difficulty concentrating, emotional swings, fatigue, gastrointestinal upset, increased heart rate, rapid breathing, and restlessness. Anxiety is not only stressful emotionally, but overtime can be very stressful physically on the brain and body.

Awareness of how anxiety can affect quality of life for both the individual experiencing the anxiety and the loved ones around them is extremely important. Anxiety is very treatable, even without medication, yet only less than 40% of those with anxiety are treated successfully and with the right approach.

What Part Of The Brain Controls Fear

Mel Robbins Quote: Fear

From a biological standpoint, fear is a very important emotion. It helps you respond appropriately to threatening situations that could harm you.

This response is generated by stimulation of the amygdala, followed by the hypothalamus. This is why some people with brain damage affecting their amygdala dont always respond appropriately to dangerous scenarios.

When the amygdala stimulates the hypothalamus, it initiates the fight-or-flight response. The hypothalamus sends signals to the adrenal glands to produce hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol.

As these hormones enter the bloodstream, you might notice some physical changes, such as an increase in:

  • heart rate
  • blood sugar
  • perspiration

In addition to initiating the fight-or-flight response, the amygdala also plays a role in fear learning. This refers to the process by which you develop an association between certain situations and feelings of fear.

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Fear Processing In The Brain

Many experiments have been done to find out how the brain interprets stimuli and how animals develop fear responses. The emotion, fear, has been hard-wired into almost every individual, due to its vital role in the survival of the individual. Researchers have found that fear is established unconsciously and that the amygdala is involved with fear conditioning.

By understanding how fear is developed within individuals, it may be possible to treat human mental disorders such as anxiety, phobia, and posttraumatic stress disorder.

What Parts Of The Human Brain Correspond To Emotion Or Love

Emotions, like fear and love, are carried out by the limbic system, which is located in the temporal lobe. While the limbic system is made up of multiple parts of the brain, the center of emotional processing is the amygdala, which receives input from other brain functions, like memory and attention.

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How The Brain Fears

The amygdala, an almond-shaped structure in the limbic system, is where the the brain processes and reacts to frightening stimuli. Because of its mechanism, our emotional responses to situations that feel dangerous are often unconscious.

Emotions are messy, complicated phenomenanot just for lovers, but for neuroscientists as well, because they combine cognition with physiology. Scientists once thought of emotion as a purely mental activity which elicited bodily responses, but they now see the mind and body as equally responsible for creating the experiences of fear, joy, and anger. Despite this complexity, science is beginning to understand emotion by examining one emotional pathway at a time, with the hope of some day combining them into a comprehensive understanding.

Fear is the most researched and best understood of all emotions. Its the easiest emotion to study because it has the most measurable physiological response, but its also the most important emotion we have from an evolutionary standpoint. Learning to fear something dangerous that caused pain in the past, like a snake or a spider, most likely helped our ancestors to survive. And proving its evolutionary importance, the fear circuit in our brains is actually a shortcut that allows dangerous stimuli to bypass parts of the brain normally involved in sensory processing, as NYU neuroscientist Joseph LeDoux explains in the video below.


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What Is The Amygdala

Inside Your Brain – Part 6 “Anxiety”

The amygdala is often referred to as the fear center of the brain, but this description hardly does justice to the amygdala’s complexity. Located deep in the brain’s left and right temporal lobes, our two amygdalae are important for numerous aspects of thought, emotion and behavior, and are implicated in a variety of neurological and psychiatric conditions.

The brains two almond-shaped amygdalae are typically no bigger than a couple cubic centimeters in adults and are found near the center of the brain. Although the two halves of the amygdala work together, there also appear to be some aspects of amygdala function that predominate on each side.

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Conflict Of Interest Statement

The authors declare that the research was conducted in the absence of any commercial or financial relationships that could be construed as a potential conflict of interest.


Hostinar, C. E., Sullivan, R. M., and Gunnar, M. R. 2014. Psychobiological mechanisms underlying the social buffering of the hypothalamicpituitaryadrenocortical axis: a review of animal models and human studies across development. Psychol. Bull. 140:25682. doi:10.1037/a0032671

Gee, D. G., Gabard-Durnam, L., Telzer, E. H., Humphreys, K. L., Goff, B., Shapiro, M., et al. 2014. Maternal buffering of human amygdala-prefrontal circuitry during childhood but not during adolescence. Psychol. Sci. 25:206778. doi:10.1177/0956797614550878

Guassi Moreira, J. F., and Telzer, E. H. 2016. Mother still knows best: maternal influence uniquely modulated adolescent reward sensitivity during risk taking. Dev. Sci. 111. doi:10.1111/desc.12484

Gee, D. G., Gabard-Durnam, L. J., Flannery, J., Goff, B., Humphreys, K. L., Telzer, E. H., et al. 2013. Early developmental emergence of human amygdalaprefrontal connectivity after maternal deprivation. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 110:1563843. doi:10.1073/pnas.1307893110

Irrational Optimism Superstitious Fear

The amygdala has a role in fear, but it is not the one that is popularly described. Its role in fear is more fundamental and also more mundane. It is responsible for detecting and responding to threats and only contributes to feelings of fear indirectly. For example, the amygdala outputs driven by threat detection alter information processing in diverse regions of the brain. One important set of outputs result in the secretion of chemicals throughout the brain and body . In situations of danger, these chemicals alert the organism that something important is happening. As a result, attention systems in the neocortex guide the perceptual search the environment for an explanation for the highly aroused state. The meaning of the environmental stimuli present is added by the retrieval of memories. If the stimuli are known sources of danger, fear schema are retrieved from memory. My hypothesis, then, is that the feeling of fear results when the outcome of these various processes coalesce in consciousness and compel one to feel fear. This can only happen in a brain that has the cognitive wherewithal have the concept of me, or what Endel Tulving has called autonoetic consciousness. In a later post, I will elaborate on the autonoetic nature of our conscious feelings.


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Visual And Auditory Stimuli

Initially, the visual stimuli is first received by the visual thalamus and relayed to the amygdala for potential danger. The visual thalamus also relays the information to the visual cortex and is processed to see if the stimuli poses a potential threat. If so, this information is relayed to the amygdala and the muscle contraction, increased heart rate and blood pressure begins, thus activating the sympathetic neuronal pathway. A presentation of a neutral visual stimuli has been shown to intensify the percept of fear or suspense induced by a different channel of information, such as audition. From Le Doux’s research, it shows that sound stimuli are not directly relayed from the auditory thalamus to the central nucleus.

What Part Of The Brain Is Responsible For Empathy

Mel Robbins Quote: Fear

The part of the brain responsible for empathy is the cerebral cortex, specifically the anterior insular cortex.

This is a true story: Robert is a homeless boy. For many years, he has not had any friends. He used to live with his mother in a car crammed with all of her belongings. He now lives in a homeless shelter with his mother.

He is scared because there are also many disturbing people living there, and he is in a dangerous part of the city. He has started going to school in a different neighborhood and is making friends. He likes kickball, is brilliant, and dreams of becoming a famous scientist. His teachers have seen his potential and stimulate him.

As the reader reads this story, his brain recreates Roberts suffering so that he can understand it and act on it. These two emotional processes, the identification with another person and the compassion that comes from understanding his situation, are actually two sides of the same coin: empathy, the basis of many social behaviors.

Simply put, empathy is the ability to perceive, understand, and become infected with the emotions that surround us. With this definition, we can imagine the scope that this ability has in our development.

Although the emotional history of each one influences the ability to perceive the emotions of others, it is something that we have to work on constantly. Also, even though our early experiences have not been favorable, anyone has the ability to develop empathy.

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This Post Has One Comment

  • David Hallowell 25 Feb 2020Reply

    When we get to the bottom of the rabbit hole this is what we will find!

    As we stand between the infinite light and the infinite darkness.

    Things beyond our ability to know, and to understand.

    For the finite mind, cannot know the infinite! It Is beyond our vision and comprehension.

    What we can know is love, which is: Kindness, Goodness, Patience, Forgiveness, Truth and things such as these.

    For things such as these, are the very purpose of our existence.

    First, we must be complete in altrustic love, then we can have an infinite eternity to explore the infinate.

    But for now we must understand the concept of developing this altruistic love in all things, and all actions, even of mind and heart by understanding these from the soul or our very being.

    -Stands with a Roar-


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    All content published on this website is intended for informational purposes only. Learning Mind does not provide medical, psychological, or any other type of professional advice, diagnosis, or treatment.

    Stereotyping Stimulates Behavior With Certain Presuppositions

    Stereotyping circuits are connected with higher cortical areas. First impressions are formed. Then specific words, concepts and experiences are chosen as a basis of judgment. Regions of social intelligence and motor activity then implement behavior.

    There has been no way to separate thoughts and feelings in the brain, when decision-making clearly involves both. So both prejudice based on visceral feelings and stereotypes based on concepts interact as thoughts and feelings do in every area of life.

    Many centers discussed above have convergence in both activities, such as the amygdala, the OFC, insula and striatum as well as higher cortical regions.

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    Even Your Skin Reacts To Being Scared

    Our skins moisture content can increase for any number of reasons, including a rooms temperature and humidity, but its also an indication of fear. When were stressed, our nervous systems trigger a release of moisture that collects under our skin, increasing skins electrical conductivity. Game developers testing fear response in Until Dawn, a horror-themed video game, used technology from MIT Galvanic Skin Response Testing to measure skins moisture content while playing the game. This helped tell them which experiences were scary and which needed to be revisited. Of course, the rooms temperature and humidity came into play, but it was a unique and scientific way to try to measure the fear factor.

    Interesting Studies On Phobias And Brain Activity

    The Science of Fear

    Animal studies have shown that if the central nucleus of the amygdala is stimulated, different parts of the fear response can be triggered. However, damage to this site decreases fear responses to conditioned stimuli. Furthermore, the person cannot acquirenew fears.

    On the other hand, damage tothe hippocampusan area that sends input to the amygdala regarding the location of the fear-arousing stimulusonlyeliminates the contextual fear conditioningwithout affecting conditioned fear to the stimulus.

    Regarding brain activity in phobias, a study by Schienleet al. found differences between individuals with spider phobia and those who did not suffer from spider phobia while viewing pictures of spiders and other pictures of neutral insects. Spider phobics showed greater activation of the amygdalae, the visual association cortex, the right hippocampus, and the right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex. This latter area appears to be associated with the processing of negative emotions. Activation was also observed in the supplementary motor area . In addition, spider phobic individuals showed greater amygdala activation than control subjects while viewing the disgust-inducing pictures.

    A meta-analysis published in 2012 showed hyperactivation in the insula of phobic individuals. Both structures are associated with negative emotional responses.

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    Amygdala The Fear Inducing Nervous Tissues

    The amygdala is a nervous tissue that is a part of the human brain. It has some of the most crucial functions that are in connection with the behavior of humans in general.

    The amygdala is a nervous tissue that got its name from the Latin word amygdale, meaning almond-shaped. The tissue is almond-shaped and some of its primary or main functions are memory processing, the process of decision making, and the creation of emotional responses.

    There is two amygdalas, and hence, they are always referred to as the amygdalae, which is the plural form for the amygdala. There are on the left and right sides of the brain. The amygdala is situated in the temporal lobe of the brain.

    The brain has four lobes and they are the frontal lobe, temporal lobe, parietal lobe and occipital lobe. The amygdala is in the temporal lobe just beneath the frontal lobe.

    It is situated nearer to the hippocampus and the frontal portion of the temporal lobe of the human brain. It is very small in size and still does some of the crucial functions in the brain that help the human body to function normally in the day to day life.

    Fear is a very strong emotion that is embedded in humans since the beginning of time. Fear is an overwhelming emotion that can either make the person do the most amazing things or do something that is drastically disruptive.

    Fear is an emotion that is felt by human beings when they are threatened or scared or when the person is in a dreadful or frightening situation.

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