Breaking Down Fear

By: Serena Sana

1We’ve spent an entire semester discussing the things that scare us. We are scared of everything ranging from bees to ghost children. The list is endless and the only thing that they all seem to have in common is that they make us want to run far far away. For me, I am not typically fearful of something until someone has told me a story that is related or I have some kind of “experience” with the offender. We, at some point, should have learned about the fight or flight response associated with being in a bad situation. For all of this, we can thank our brain and its utterly complex response mechanisms that allow us to be scared.

The amygdala, highlighted red in the picture above, is the part of the human brain in charge of our emotional reactions. It also happens to be in charge of sending signals to the other parts of the brain and body when it senses potential danger. There are two different routes that happen simultaneously, the “low road” and the “high road”. In the first “low road” pathway, the amygdala, is what tells us to run, hide, or defend ourselves with a textbook. The other “high road” pathway acts towards figuring out if we truly need to be scared or if it was just the neighbor innocently taking out the trash. The low road takes but a few milliseconds to react whereas the high road takes a few seconds. This gap is what allows us to be scared of just about anything and, to be scared of something, our brains must have a memory (with a negative response) to recall. Eventually, the gap closes and the truth is revealed. Sometimes the low road response pathway could save your life and sometimes it can give you a mini fake heart attack.

For me, it is houses. Houses make weird sounds but until Dionaea House or Sammy’s recent blog post, I just assumed it had to do with the engineering or construction of the house. Now, because my high road response has more to think about, the gap is greater thus allowing for me to panic and remember all the terrifying things the house wants with me.

All in all, every scary blog post and every scary story we just read have given our brains more ammunition to use against us one day. While understanding how our brain works might help remain calm in some situations, I believe there is no way to ever avoid being scared once it has already happened.

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6 thoughts on “Breaking Down Fear

  1. This is a really interesting post and I’m glad that I read it because I am the type of person who becomes less scared when I can make sense out of something. As we’ve talked about in class and on the blog, many scary stories use “the unknown” to create their horror and leave the audience scared out of their minds because no concrete resolution is given. It’s what we don’t know that gets left to our imagination and thus becomes all the scarier. I’m interested in the medical field, so this post was especially telling for me because it helps make sense of our bodily response to or creation of fear.

  2. I like how you were able to use science to explain why people get scared. I feel that most people, like you, become more scared of something when you hear a true story about it or have a personal scary experience. Thankfully, I have never had a truly scary experience. Have you? When I am home alone, however, I’m always slightly afraid it will happen. I agree with you that houses are extremely creepy. No matter how comfortable you feel in that house, you can still get scared. The noises can scare you, open windows, possibly open doors, really anything can get to you. It’s even worse if you live in a large house.

  3. Awesome post! I knew about the fight or flight response, but I had no idea about the high road or low road responses to things. It makes total sense though, because my sister used to like to jump out at me and scare me, and now even when I see her, if she pops out it startles me.It would make sense that the gap is large between my high and low road responses allowing the sudden movement to still scare me. (Or I could be totally wrong!)

  4. I like the use of science in your post, mainky because I didnt know too much about this. But it definetly makes sense, the part about having some sort of memoryto be afraid of something. I agree with you that houses are creepy but for me its more they’re creepy by appearance rather than in relation to Dionaea House

  5. I like this post – it’s interesting to think about the science behind our fear. I’m curious about the role that adrenaline plays in the fight or flight response. I’ve heard that when people actually experience a horrifying situation, many of them don’t feel fear at the time. Rather, they feel a sort of mixture of shock and adrenaline. The fear sometimes comes after, when remembering the event. Do you know if this happens in the same part of the brain?

  6. I enjoyed this post. I think what you said about how every scary thing that we read is giving our brain ammunition against us is really interesting and valid. I wrote about this in our 2nd major paper- the way that you do not have control over your brain and your thoughts and while you may want to block something our or forget something it always has a way to creep up again without your consent. Very interesting. I also think it is interesting that houses are something in particular that scare you. I worked in real estate this summer and sometimes would have to go to vacant houses before my boss and set them up and was often scared of who (or what) I would find when I was alone in these strange houses.

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