Where Does Fear Originate In The Brain?
One of the most spellbinding mysteries in psychology and neuroscience is the origin of fear. Fear is an essential emotion that is used to protect ourselves from implicit and explicit danger. For example, we may have an uneasy feeling about a situation like going for a walk in a dark forest or when we see a large spider in our home. The experience of fear changes our decisions and behaviors. Because of this, researchers have sought to find the origin of fear in the brain. In this blog post, we discuss where fear originates in the brain.
What does the research say about where fear originates in the brain?
Previous research has shown that the amygdala, or the brain’s emotional processing hub, is responsible for detecting, transmitting, and processing fear responses. To get a thorough understanding of how fear originates in the brain, Tao et. al (2021) conducted a literature review consisting of 184 studies that examined fear processing, explicit fear processing, and implicit fear processing. Researchers conducted complex statistical analysis of brain regions from the studies to identify brain regions involved in the processing and activation of fear.
What the researchers found was that people process things that trigger fear in a bilateral network of brain regions: the amygdala, fronto-occipital lobe, inferior frontal gyrus, inferior occipital gyrus, and the fusiform gyrus. Further analysis revealed that both sides of the amygdala, the left fusiform gyrus, and right mid-frontal gyrus overlap in the processing of implicit and explicit fear. This suggests that implicit and explicit fear is processed using similar networks in the brain.
Why is this important?
Understanding how fear is processed in the brain is important for several reasons:
1. First, these brain regions that process fear are also involved in cognitive processing. By understanding how fear originates and is processed in the brain, clinical providers working with people who have cognitive impairments may better understand how emotions like fear impact cognition.
2. Second, this understanding of where fear originates and is processed in the brain may lead to the development and utilization of therapies such as neurofeedback, neurostimulator, and medications that may help alter a fear response to not be disruptive to cognitive performance.
3. Lastly, this knowledge can help further the understanding of how psychological disorders, such as panic disorder, may alter brain structure and activity.
Fear is largely processed in the amygdala, fronto-occipital lobe, inferior frontal gyrus, inferior occipital gyrus, and the fusiform gyrus. Further research has shown that both implicit and explicit fear are processed in the entire amygdala, the left fusiform gyrus, and the right mid-frontal gyrus. This suggests that both implicit and explicit fear is processed using similar networks in the brain. More research is needed to better understand how fear is processed in those with psychological disorders as well as neurological trauma, as brain networks may be altered due to the experience and development of different conditions. By understanding the biological basis of fear, treatments may be developed that may effectively alter brain activity to help individuals living with fear not succumb to it and experience distress. Some current interventions for fear include practicing mindfulness, cognitive behavioral therapy, and working on adapting to change.
Tao, D., He, Z., Lin, Y., Liu, C., & Tao, Q. (2021). Where does fear originate in the brain? A coordinate-based meta-analysis of explicit and implicit fear processing. NeuroImage, 227, 117686.