The Science of Fear – What Happens to Your Body When You Get Scared


Your heart is pounding like crazy. You take deeper and longer breaths. Your palms get sweaty, what’s going on?

If you are experiencing these symptoms, then you’re scared. But have you ever wondered what causes fear? Or what reactions occur in the body when you get scared?

Let’s take a journey into the science of fear to find out. BOO!

Where Does Fear Originate?

According to National Geographic, we are born with only two fears, the fear of loud sounds and of falling. Every other fear was learnt, taught us by our culture and environment. Other fears do affect those, but loud, unexpected noises scare almost anybody.

Fear is an evolutionary trait that has helped mankind survive to the present day. When you’re confronted with something that you don’t understand, or is capable of hurting you, your body goes into a so-called ‘fight or flight’ mode.

To prepare for this response, your body begins to take several actions to prepare you for quick action or a quick flight.

How Your Body Reacts to Fear

Your brain is the organ that controls your body and bodily processes, so it stands to reason that the reactions and responses to fear are controlled by the brain.

The amygdala is a part of your brain located behind your ears and eyes. It functions as an alarm system for the brain. When the amygdala senses pain or a scary sound, a signal is sent to the brain to respond accordingly.

Your body adjusts and increases your rate of breathing, to provide more oxygen for the blood, as well as increasing your blood pressure and heart rate. Then your stress hormone, cortisol is released – all in a bid to make you more alert and active. In fact, fear can get you focused enough to gain tunnel vision; which means you lose some degree of peripheral vision to focus completely on the source of the ‘threat’.

Another interesting fact about getting scared Is that it’s almost impossible to make rational decisions. The reason for this is quite simple, but interesting nonetheless. As a result of the pumping of stress hormones into your bloodstream, much of your energy is diverted to your limbs, as part of the fight or flight preparation.

Of course, fear isn’t all bad; in lower doses, it can help you retain a sharp edge and make you more focused.

Why Do Some People Enjoy Getting Scared?

Nobody wants to go through a genuinely life-threatening situation, but there are a lot of people who enjoy being frightened. This is why the latest horror movies are so popular.

During our flight or fight response, we experience a natural high. This is as a result of dopamine, one of the hormones released by our body. Dopamine is also released when we do something that we enjoy and can be quite addictive. Research shows that our brains release dopamine at different levels, which may account for why some people enjoy scary movies more than others.

Interestingly, one of the best was to overcome fear is to be continually exposed to that which you fear. Continuous and steady exposure of the brain to the conditions of fear makes you get used to that level of fear. This is why, for most fans, they need a higher level of horror to reach that same level of excitement.

So, do you want to pump up your fear to the next level? Check out this list of the best home theatre systems and get ready to enjoy an amazing dopamine high on your next horror night!


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