Don’t be Afraid Of Being Afraid: Your Physical Fear Response Is Natural


Source: CPO magazine

Fear. It’s a feeling we all know and understand, especially during the month of October. But have you ever noticed the different reactions that take place in your body in response to fear? Fear was originally a mechanism used by organisms to avoid danger but has evolved into a feeling that Halloween-lovers seek to experience. Reactions such as a racing heart, screaming, and goosebumps are common outcomes of this thrill-inducing emotion. But why do they occur, and more importantly, why do some people enjoy them?


Primarily, fear is a protection mechanism that stimulates the flight or fight response. Starting in the brain, the amygdala signals the nervous system about a potential threat. The nervous system then causes the secretion of hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol from the brain to the rest of the body. This stimulates many changes to our circulatory system. Breathing becomes heavier, more blood is pumped out of the heart to ensure that our limbs are ready to run or attack, and heart rate increases. 


However, fear can also cause irrational responses. While the amygdala is activated, the cerebral cortex, the region of the brain associated with reason, shuts down. So, during a fear-inducing situation, individuals tend to experience a lack of judgement that can cause nonsensical responses like screaming or cowering. 


Some reactions such as goosebumps don’t seem helpful or irrational. This may be true for individuals living in the 21st century, but goosebumps may have actually helped our ancestors defend themselves against predators. Early humans typically had more hair covering this skin and since goosebumps cause hair to ‘stand up’, this reaction may have made them look bigger and more threatening, potentially allowing them to successfully avert the danger. 


All of these reactions don’t sound very enjoyable. So how come some people relish the climb to the top of a roller coaster, the jump-scares in a horror movie, or the trip through a haunted house? It all comes down to chemical makeup! Endorphins and dopamine are neurotransmitters that stimulate pleasure and are released alongside adrenaline during the fight or flight response. Some individuals have fewer regulators on these releases, meaning they will experience more of the satisfaction rush for a longer period of time. 


Next time you find your heart rate spiking, the urge to scream or freeze over taking, or goosebumps lining your arms, consider the way your body is responding to help you avoid irrational reactions and determine if the situation is controlled or a threat. Valuable information as we approach the spookiest day of them all. Happy Halloween!