Fear is a hardwired response, but it doesn’t have to rule our emotions.
Nearly one fifth of the U.S. adult population suffers from an anxiety disorder, according to 2018 data. At their core, the worry and panic that make up general anxiety stem from an overactive fear response in the brain. And indeed, that primordial reaction is one of the most examined topics in neuroscience— investigated in rodents, humans, other apes and even invertebrates.
But how much do those automatic feelings relate to the emotions that humans associate with fear and, subsequently, their experience in the world? To sort out the issue, as six neuroscientists discuss in a fascinating Q&A in these pages, step one is for the field to come to agreement over an exact definition of fear and how best to study it (see “Embracing Our Fear”).
If you worry about whether your life is “happy enough,” focus instead on the meaningful experiences in your life, both good and bad, writes Scott Barry Kaufman (see “Forget Happiness, Find Meaning”). And in one of my favorite features of the year, check out the winners in the annual Art of Neuroscience photography competition (see “The Brain in Images: Top Entries in the Art of Neuroscience”). They are a beautiful new way to think of your mind.
This article was originally published with the title “The Fearful Mind” in SA Mind 30, 6, 2 (November 2019)