The Science Behind the Terror

People will either go out of their way to find it and revel in the fact that they’re being terrified out of their skulls. Or they’ll do whatever it takes to avoid it the way someone with social anxiety avoids parties. Fear is a natural part of the human psyche and has often been cited by philosophers as being among the greatest internal motivators of the human spirit. However, despite the fact that we have extensive knowledge of what terrifies people and how fear can play a game with someone’s mental health, we have barely any idea how, exactly, does fear work in the human mind.

Modern science is still unsure what the chemical responses are in the mind when fear is triggered, or what psychoactive medication (if any) would have an appreciable effect in dispelling fear. There is still more than an air of uncertainty on what biochemical signals the brain produces as a reaction to fear, if there are any being released at all. The development of phobias is a noted process, though there is little data on what the actual biochemical responses they cause are. To put it simply, we may have some understanding of what terrifies us and why, but we don’t quite have a grasp of how it terrifies us. This apparent lack of knowledge, however, is being addressed by researchers at the University of Michigan.

The first area that the research team focused on are the factors that determine the development of fears and phobias in the mind. According to the research, there is some mild evidence that suggest genetics has a role in the development of fear responses. Certain individuals seem genetically predisposed towards being afraid of certain things, which would imply that some fears could possibly be hereditary psychological traits. Another sub-topic of this field of the research involves analyzing the complex chemical responses that trauma causes, with focus on the biochemical cocktail that results in a lifelong fear and need for therapy. It is understood that trauma and extreme situations can enforce a fear in a person, but there is precious little information indicating how the brain reacts to such situations that triggers permanent psychological effects.

The researchers are aware that a part of the brain known as the amygdala is connected to how people react with fear, but is not the sole culprit. The team, aside from finding out what chemical triggers fear, is also busy undertaking the task of finding out what areas of the brain are active when a fear response is activated. This, combined with knowledge of what biochemical responses are generated or involved, might lead to some useful mental health-related developments. One of these could involve the development of drugs that are better designed to handle phobias and irrational fears. Another avenue that the team is interesting in investigating involves the chemical the brain produces to overcome fear. Clearly, analyzing and replicating this can have a wide range of applications, with obvious applications in the medical and military fields.