The science of fear

Published on April 17, 2021 by

Why are anxiety disorders on the rise? Is there a pill for fear? Fear can cause trembling, a racing heart, sweating, and stress. It’s essential for our survival, but it can also make us sick.

How is the coronavirus pandemic affecting our sense of fear? Can a fear of heights be conquered with the help of virtual reality? Why do so many people enjoy being scared, and what positive effects can it have? When we are afraid, the amygdala in our brain takes control of body and mind. In recent years, scientists around the world have succeeded in further decoding human fear and developing completely new therapies. Our fear-memory prevents us from forgetting dangerous experiences. This can be helpful, but sometimes such memories take on a life of their own. At the University of Freiburg Medical Center, a team led by psychiatrist Katharina Domschke is investigating the cause of panic attacks. The experts’ lab experiments reveal something surprising: Many anxiety attacks are unconsciously triggered or provoked by the patients themselves. There are also those who don’t seem to be afraid of anything, like motocross champion Kyle Demelo. He’s fallen countless times, but still gets back on his motorcycle to compete in his hazardous sport. Neuropsychologist David Zald investigates why Kyle’s “fear center” functions differently to many other people’s. Is Kyle incapable of feeling fear, or is he just not afraid of his fear?

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