The origin of…Fear

“We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark; the real tragedy of life is when men are afraid of the light.” Plato

Post 38 Fear

Fear is what we feel when we perceive a threat and it causes us to change our behavior, such as hiding, freezing or running away.  This response to fear aids our survival and is known as the fight-or-flight response. The heart rate increases, blood pressure goes up and muscles tense up. When the threat is real fear can be seen as rational and when it is not as irrational. In case a person suffers from a persistent fear of an object or situation that is disproportionate to the actual danger we speak of a phobia.

Specific fears are the result of specific learning and experiences in childhood, but the capacity to fear is part of human nature. Since humans that fear dangerous situations are more likely to survive it is thought that genetic effect is the result of natural selection.
When a person develops a specific fear as a result of learning, we speak of fear conditioning. John Watson proved this in the 1920´s in what we would now call a controversial experiment. He taught a child to fear white rats by pairing the white rat with a negative effect (Pavlovian conditioning).  This fear was then extended to all furry white animals, like white dogs. He concluded that parents can shape a child´s behavior and development by exercising control over all stimulus-response associations.

Fears can also be culture specific, like the Japanese taijin kyofusho (disorder of fear of interpersonal relations). Taijin kyofusho is a type of social anxiety and is seen as someone´s intense fear that his or her body, its parts or its functions, displease, embarrass or are offensive to other people in appearance, odor, facial expressions, or movements.

Culture specific fears are something else than the culture of fear, which is described as the incitement of fear in the general public to achieve political goals. An example of this can be found in Nazi Germany, but some also argue that the term War on Terror was intended to create a culture of fear.

1. an unpleasant often strong emotion caused by anticipation or awareness of danger and accompanied by increased autonomic activity.
2. an instance of fear (source: Merriam Webster).

The English fear derives from Old English fær, calamity/sudden danger/peril, from Proto-Germanic *feraz, danger, from the Proto Indo European verbal root *per-, to try/risk, related to *per-, forward/through.
Dutch angst comesfrom Old Dutch angust, anguish/fear, from Old High German angust, from Latin angor, suffocation/anxiety.
Spanish miedo comes from Latin metus, fear/anxiety.
Italian paura comes from Latin pavor, fear/panic.

Fear in other languages:
Dutch: angst
Spanish: el miedo
Italian: la paura


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