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Fear: Do We Control It?

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Fear: Do We Control It, Or Does It Control Us? TLJ Honors Psych

Fear: Do We Control It, Or Does It Control Us?

Fear is the mind's way of responding to both physical and emotional danger. It has vast effects on an individual's psychological state, and is directly controlled by the amygdala. Fear is a necessary defense, because without it we would not protect ourselves from legitimate threats. Traumas and bad experiences can trigger emotional fears. Though it seems nowadays, we play into these fears -- fears that are not at all life threatening-- all too often allowing them to become irrational fears. Since the beginning of time there has always been an instilment of fear in our minds, whether the fear was that of eating the 'Forbidden Fruit' , to local legends like Slenderman, and even the bizarre idea of a robotic coup de' etat. The only difference between these fears, is how strongly we let them affect us psychologically. Do we allow our fears to be spoon-fed to us by society and the media? Are we completely irrational when it comes to some of these fears? What is the correlation between our fears of the past and those of the present? Finally, what will the future of mankind hold? All of these factors play a major part in understanding the affects fear can have on society as a whole. Keywords: Fear, Irrational, Media, Past, Present, Future

Fear: Do We Control It, Or Does It Control Us? Since the dawn of time, since our days as cavemen and cave-women, the existence of fear has always been known. To fully understand our fears and whether or not we allow them to overcome our psychological state of mind, we first need to know what fears are and where they stem from. Does the media and government play a major role in the fears we take on? What are our future plans for combating phobias, PTSD, and anxiety disorders and how can we max our potential for overcoming said fears. These are the questions that we must take into consideration.
Fear is one's response to perceived physical, emotional, and psychological danger. (Meyers, 2013) Fear is said to be controlled by the amygdala, nucleus accumbens, hippocampus, vetromedial hypothalamus, and not surprisingly many more portions of the brain are involved. Each part has its own respective role in the many stages of fear processing from the implementation of efferent components of fear response, pairing an unconditioned stimulus to a conditioned response, all of the way to overcoming a fear. Fear can come in many forms and severities phobias, anxiety disorders, and PTSD being among them.
Anxiety Disorders:
Anxiety disorders are psychological disorders in which the brain's danger detection system becomes overly active. This causes importunate, distressing anxiety even when there is no immediate threat. There is a wide variety of anxiety disorders that exist such as phobias, PTSD, panic disorders, acute stress syndrome, obsessive compulsive disorder, general anxiety disorder, and many more. (Meyers, 2013)

General Anxiety Disorders:
General anxiety disorders, or GAD, are defined as fears over every-day-tasks that persist for longer than six months. Often times it is unknown what exactly causes the anxiety, and therefore it cannot be relieved or avoided. Of those who develop general anxiety disorders (two-thirds are women) will show symptoms of crumpled brows, persistent trembling, excessive sweating, uncontrollable twitches, and can even lead to high blood pressure. The comorbidity of depression and general anxiety disorders can be a daunting combination. Even without depression, GAD's tend to be extremely disabling. (Meyers, 2013)
Panic Disorders:
Panic disorders are an anxiety disorder manifested by volatile, minute-long episodes of intense hysteria that is followed by dramatic chest pains, choking, and other startling sensations. All too often, panic attacks are mistaken for heart attacks or even strokes. Smoker are at twice the risk of developing this disorder, due to the fact that nicotine is a powerful stimulant. (Meyers, 2013)Women are also twice as likely to develop panic disorders than men. (Liberzon & Shin, 2009)
Phobias are defined as an irrational, persistent fear one has to either a specific object, activity, or situation that leaves one paralyzed and ultimately compelled to avoid any situation in which they may confront this fear. The signs of phobias are generally loss of breath, rapid heartbeat, fidgeting, and an uncontrollable desire to flee the given situation. (APA, 2000) When it comes to phobias there are three types: Agoraphobia, social phobia, and specific phobia. A few of the most common specific phobias are as follows:
Arachnophobia: Arachnophobia is the irrational fear of arachnids. More commonly, spiders. People who have this fear, often perceive these critters as being larger than they actually according to recent studies. They found that the greater the fear, the larger they perceived the spider to be. (Department of Psychology, 2012)
Claustrophobia: Claustrophobia is the fear of enclosed spaces. This phobia would stray individuals away from elevators, airplanes, cars, MRI machines, and other similar instances in which an exit is not easily accessible.
Acrophobia: Finally, acrophobia - the fear of heights - or as I like to say "The fear of falling from high places." due to the fact it is not really the height that bothers me, but rather the fear of falling. It stems from the Greek word meaning 'summit' and in extreme cases the individual may become so scared, they are unable to get down safely. Individuals with severe cases of these phobias are often left paralyzed when face with these fears, often times rendering the host completely helpless. “I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration..." - Frank Herbert
Agoraphobias is determined by one's intense hysteria of being in situation that he or she would be unable to immediately escape from. Agoraphobics are terrified by the idea of not being able to receive help should the individual become vastly overwhelmed by fear that they are thrown into a panic attack. Agoraphobia is often thought to be the most debilitating of all the phobia, due to the fact that there are so many fears associated with it.
PTSD, also known formally as post traumatic stress syndrome, shellshock, and battle fatigue, can stem from any traumatic and stressful situation that proposes the threat of death or serious bodily injury where the individual's only reaction was intense fear, helplessness, or horror. (Psychiatric, 2000) People who have Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome often have re-occurrences of the traumatic event through nightmares, physiological arousal, and flashbacks. They also experience hypervigilance and have trouble with sleeping and concentrating. (Psychiatric, 2000) A hyper responsive amygdala is responsible for PTSD and causes these problems of emotion regulation and contextual processing.
We are constantly being barraged with fear after fears. With that being said, where do these fears stem from? Are they genetic or does society tell us what we need to fear through the infectious nature of media and politics? While most may agree with the latter statement, there is more to this question than most are willing to analyze.
The media does not have to teach a toddler to fear snakes, spiders, or other creepy crawlies; it is something that just come naturally. Simply put, we are biologically predisposed to fear the threats faced by our ancestors. (Meyers, 2013) Classic fear conditioning data was experimentally obtained from 173 same-sex twin pairs (90 being monozygotic and 83 being dizygotic). Of these numerous experiments, the data concluded that most of the fear conditioning process in humans demonstrated reasonable inheritability, roughly between 35% to 45%. "Genes represent a significant source of individual variation in the habituation, acquisition, and extinction of fears, and genetic effects specific to fear conditioning are involved." (John M. Hettema, Peter Annas, Michael C. Neale, Kenneth S. Kendler, & Mats Fredrikson, 2003)
When it comes to the media, there is one thing they know how to do very well, and that one thing is how to sell an article. The media seems to have perfected how to spin webs-of-fear, fears that reels us in and stick to us for years to come. Take 9/11 for example. On a seemingly normal Tuesday morning, September 11, 2001, our nation was shaken to the core in what was perhaps the most devastating moments in the history of America. Nevertheless, the media certainly sunk its teeth into this story. Headlines came in an array of emotions ranging from "Day of Death", "Act of War", all the way to "America's Bloodiest Day!". While all of these headlines are all justified, their wording is powerful and that power is the key to effectively reaching its consumers.
Another perfect example of the media creating excessive hype and escalating fears unnecessarily, is that of the Ebola outbreak in Africa. Even the World Health Organization Director General, stated that the virus was "threatening the very survival of societies and governments in already very poor countries." She stated that the already forty-five hundred deaths would climb exponentially, despite the fact that the virus has been primarily restricted to three African countries, Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea. Among the many who are trying to convince us of an inevitable pandemic, there are a few individuals who completely rebuke this idea. (Brooks, 2014) Seth Berkley, chief executive of the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization, is one of these individuals. He stated that the chances of Ebola ever becoming a problem in any given wealthy nation is very, very low. Also, the virus is not airborne and often times kills the host before it can be transmitted from one person to the next. There are two effective ways of fighting the virus. It can be done through constant rehydration, or through plasma transfusions from an individual who has previously fought off the virus. Many blame the continual spread of Ebola on Africa's broken civil-structures and lack of health care. Another major factor is their traditional funeral practices, in which they usually bathe the dead several times after they have passed. This gives the virus an ample amount of opportunities for the virus to spread. Periodic Ebola outbreaks in the past have always been easily contained, as proper precaution had always been taken. Therefore, as long as proper caution is taken now, the outbreak of Ebola can be contained. (Brooks, 2014)
"The only thing we have to fear is fear itself" - Franklin D. Roosevelt. Politicians are also quite skilled at getting you to follow along with whatever point they are trying to get across. It can be seen all throughout the span of our great nation. A perfect example of politicians playing on our fears can be seen in the commercials ran by Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964 as he ran against Barry Goldwater. One of the commercials, respectively known as the "Daisy" commercial, depicts a young girl plucking petals from a daisy in the middle of a large field of flowers. Once she reaches nine and loud robotic sounding voice takes over, counting down from ten. As the voice reaches one, images of large mushroom clouds take over and a recording of Johnson is played over. "These are the stakes. To make a world in which all of God's children can live, or to go into the dark. We must either love each other, or we must die." The other commercial shows a girl eating ice cream as a female does a voice over talking about the negative effects of nuclear weapon testing. She stated that "children should have lots of vitamin A and calcium, but they shouldn't have any strontium 90 or cesium 137. . . These are the effects of atomic bombs and are radioactive. They make people die" She labels Barry Goldwater as a man in favor of these effects and that people should vote against him. (Schwartz, 1964)
The famous Bush campaign is another perfect example of politicians employing the tactic of playing on our fears. The Bush Campaign played on the idea that "Fear Sells" by using the term "The War on Terror" as the agenda of his second race to presidency. Glassner, author of Culture Of Fear, said " The Phrase 'The War on Terror' was deliberately (or instinctively) calculated by its sponsors." (Glassner, 1999)
Even President Barrack Obama has played on our fears. His infamous "That could have been my son." comment made about Trayvon Martin did just that. He went on further discussing the fear of racism which plays into that ideology and only fueled the flames of anger and remorse, that had arisen due to fear that fear that Zimmerman would walk away a free man. "There are very few African American men in this country who haven't had the experience of being followed when they were shopping in a department store. That includes me. There are very few African American men who haven't had the experience of walking across the street and hearing the locks click on the doors of cars. That happens to me -- at least before I was a senator. There are very few African Americans who haven't had the experience of getting on an elevator and a woman clutching her purse nervously and holding her breath until she had a chance to get off. That happens often. "
Racism, due to our nation's past, is an easy target for both the media and politicians. There was a case in Salt Lake City, Utah that was almost identical to the Ferguson shooting, in which a white officer shot and killed a black individual, except the races are completely reversed. Even still, the media focused primarily on the Ferguson matter and hardly paid any attention to the Salt Lake City shooting. Nor were there any riots as a result of the Salt Lake City shooting. These are only a few of many incidents where fear has been used to sway votes, sell articles, etc. We as a nation need to understand these tactics and not irrationally follow them without any forethought.
There have been many negative outcomes that are a direct result of media over, stereotypes, desensitized youth, mass hysteria, and psychogenic illnesses are just a few examples. It is believed that high rates of exposure to media desensitizes children to negative and criminalistic behavior to the point where they start to perceive it as normal behavior. "Compared to Great Britain, the television programs in the United States are three times more violent, which means that children in the U.S. are exposed to three times as much violence each and every day" (O'Brien, 2005) There are countless reports of children hitting, stabbing, shooting, and even killing people as a result of desensitization. More recently, there was a case in which two twelve-year-old girls stabbed a fellow friend, who was also twelve at the time of the incident, nineteen times. They did this by convincing her to play hide and go seek out in the woods. After stabbing her, the girls left her there to die. When questioned, the girls said their reason was simple to pay homage to the internet horror sensation known as Slender Man and they showed little to no remorse. (Hanna & Ford, 2014)
Another incident showing the baffling effect that media has on fear can clearly be seen on October 31, 1938. Orson Welles, a talented actor/film director at the time, and the Mercury Theater broadcasted a radio play that had been loosely base on War of The Worlds. The play portrayed a visualization that Martians were going to come and take over the world. This image was portrayed so well in fact, that mass hysteria ran amuck. Listeners began to lose their minds, so to speak, some even tried to flee in their vehicles. All to escape this invasion from mars. (Aronson, Wilson, & Akert, Social Psychology, 2013)
Mass hysteria is a well known term used to define a case in which a variety of individuals mysteriously suffer the same hysterical symptoms, and can be seen many times throughout our lives. The previously mentioned 'Orson Welles invasion' is a prime example of this. Another example of this can be seen in the Louisiana Twitching Epidemic Of 1939. The case began with one girl, patient zero or Helena, who had an uncontrollable twitch in her leg. It slowly but surely worsened over a course of two months, and it eventually spread to every girl in Helena's school. Frantic parents began removing their children from the school which only furthered these fears and eventually a full-blown stampede broke out at the school. It took an entire week for this case of mass hysteria to calm down. When investigated they found out that Helena was merely seeking attention and was afraid that she might lose her boyfriend, therefore her subconscious mind found a solution. (Hilary Evans, 2009)
There have also been just as many negatives outcomes involved with political involvement in fears. Take the USA Patriot Act - Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act for example. This Act was initiated as a result of 9/11 and was an attempt to crack down on terrorism and essentially remove the first amendment all together. The Act was barely shot down and later revised. Would we of been willing to give up our freedoms and liberties for safety, and possibly end up with neither? Another more recent example is that of President Obama's mission to severely limit the second amendment. The government used incidents such as the 2012 Aurora shooting, the Sandy Hook Shooting, and the Centennial Colorado School shooting as means to eliminate the second amendment. Many individuals agree that it would help without taking into consideration that a criminal, no matter what stipulations you put on firearms, will find a way to either (A) get them or (B) find another way to follow through with his or her ill intentions. "Fear is not real. . . It is a product of our imagination, causing us to fear things that do not at present and may not ever exist. That is near insanity. Do not misunderstand me danger is very real but fear is a choice. - Will Smith. The media and government are not the only ones to blame for our irrational fears. You as an individual have the power to believe a fear is as scary as it is portrayed. Whether or not you're in any imminent danger. You should not wait to be told what to fear, when to be afraid, and when everything is okay. We, as a nation, need to learn to think critically - evaluating information based on facts, not opinions, and formulating an educated judgment - and analyze any, if not all information that is given to us. (Meyers, 2013) We need to learn not to take things as is, or we slowly but surely start giving up our liberties and freedom.
Common sense and critical thinking are not the only solutions for fears though. Fear related disorders such as phobias, anxiety disorders, and even PTSD are treatable through therapy as well. Though there are several different types of therapy, and neither one is more efficient than the other. It simply depends on the circumstances and the individual himself. The types of therapy range from exposure to flooding therapy, vivo to imaginal therapy, internal to external, and many more.
Exposure therapy is defined as a treatment that promotes the systematic quarrel of feared objects, with the hopes of reducing one's fear response. Exposure therapy is generally considered the first line of defense for many anxiety disorders and phobias. However, despite this "first line of defense" idea, very few patients are treated with this approach in mind. When using exposure therapy as a treatment, many exposure therapist start with small stimuli and work their way up a "fear ladder". Psychologists have now even started using virtual reality to help further exposure therapy which will have many practical uses in the future. Flooding therapy is quite the opposite. Where exposure therapy would start from the bottom and work its way to the top, Flooding therapy starts from the top and works its way down the "fear ladder". In clinical trials, both methods of therapy seem to be equally effective. (Johanna S. Kaplan, 2011) However, there are some psychologists who strongly disagree with this, as studies also show that flooding can sometimes worsen phobias and can be quite dangerous.

(Johanna S. Kaplan, 2011)
Albert Ellis (1913-2007) stated "The trouble with most therapy is that it helps you feel better. But you don't get better. You have to back it up with action, action, action." Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) does just that. Cognitive behavioral therapy is another form of psychotherapy treatment mixed with behavioral therapy that is used to help cope with the aforementioned disorders. Its main focus is that of examining the relationships between feelings, thoughts, and behaviors. By examining these inner-workings that generally lead to self-destructive actions and the beliefs that direct these ideas, individuals with the disorders can alter their patterns of thinking to help with coping. This type of therapy can help treat many issues such as depression, difficulty sleeping, alcohol/drug problems, and even anxiety. One of the best advantages that comes with CBT is that it tends to be a short process when compared to other types of therapy. (Martin, 2007) It is comprised of one weekly session lasting up to fifty minutes. In the therapy sessions, individuals learn to replace catastrophizing thoughts with more sensible ones. As 'homework' they are also instructed to practice behaviors that counteract their issues. At the end of most sessions, the participants' symptoms began to diminish and their PET scans showed normal brain activity. Many studies support cognitive behavioral therapy as the better choice when it comes to therapies and has more practical future uses. (Meyers, 2013)
Since the beginning of time we have always feared something, and we always will. One day we may fear pandemics and the next day we might fear a robotic coup de' etat. Whatever the case may be, one thing is for sure. We need to learn to become critical thinkers. We cannot go through life believing everything we're told. We need to research the information we are presented and not be led blindly. We need to understand that both the media and government play on our fears and will use them to further their agenda, as they have been doing this for many, many years. Therapies such as virtual exposure therapy need to continue to grow and have further applications so that we may better treat these disorders. If we can learn to analyze, evaluate, and make educated judgments along with continuing to develop efficient therapies, our future can be one of less fear and more courage. A future where we control our fears, not the other way around.

Aronson, E., Wilson, T., & Akert, R. (2013). Social Psychology. Element LLC.
Brooks, M. (2014). The Great Ebola Scare. New Statesman.
Department of Psychology, T. O. (2012). Journal of Anxiety Disorders. Journal of Anxiety Disorders, 20-24.
Glassner, B. (1999). Culture of Fear. Basic Books.
Hanna, J., & Ford, D. (2014). 12-year-old Wisconsin girl stabbed 19 times; friends arrested. CNN.
Hilary Evans, R. E. (2009). Outbreak!: The Encyclopedia of Extraordinary Social Behavior. Anomalist Books.
Johanna S. Kaplan, P. a. (2011, September 6). Exposure Therapy for Anxiety Disorders. Retrieved from Psychiatric Time:
John M. Hettema, M. P., Peter Annas, P., Michael C. Neale, P., Kenneth S. Kendler, M., & Mats Fredrikson, P. D. (2003, July). A Twin Study of the Genetics of Fear Conditioning. Retrieved November 16, 2014, from The Jama Network:
Martin, B. (2007). In-Depth: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 8, 2014, from therapy/000907
Meyers, D. G. (2013). Exploring Psychology, Ninth Edition. New York, New York, United State: Worth Custom Publishing.
O'Brien, E. (2005). FEAR: The Emotional Outcome. HoHoNu, 2(2), 1-6.
Psychiatric, A. A. (2000). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders 4th edition. Washington, DC.
Schwartz, T. (Director). (1964). Daisy [Motion Picture].
Shin, L. M., & Liberzon, I. (2010). The Neurocircuitry of Fear, Stress, and Anxiety Disorders. Neuropsychopharmacology, 35(1), 169–191. doi:10.1038/npp.2009.83…...

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