• Gregory J. QuirkEmail author
Reference work entry


The scientific study of fear, and emotion in general, dates back to the late nineteenth century, when the American psychologist William James suggested that our emotional response to a dangerous stimulus precedes our conscious perception of fear. Hence, when we see a bear, we run and then become afraid (not the other way around). The stimulus first triggers the emotional response in the body (e.g., sweating, heart racing), which then feeds back to the brain to trigger the conscious feeling of fear. This view was challenged in the 1920s by Walter Cannon, who argued that the sympathetic “fight or flight” response was essentially the same for all emotions, and therefore could not serve as a trigger for specific emotions. These two views were later synthesized by the Schachter-Singer theory in the 1960s, which stated that bodily feedback was interpreted by the brain based on the context (social cues) in which the arousal occurred, to arrive at the appropriate emotion. This dialectic between the role of the brain and body in the generation of emotion continues to this day, but there is general agreement that there are systems in the brain that can appraise the emotional significance of stimuli without conscious awareness. In the 1970s, fear research was advanced with studies of animals’ species-specific fear responses, which evolved to help animals detect and avoid danger (Bolles, Blanchard). The neural circuits of specific behaviors such as freezing or potentiation of of reflexes could be determined in animal models (LeDoux, Davis), and then translated to human fear responses.


Anxiety Disorder Obsessive Compulsive Disorder Generalize Anxiety Disorder Fear Conditioning Medial Prefrontal Cortex 
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Further Reading

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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Departments of Psychiatry and Anatomy & NeurobiologyUniversity of Puerto Rico School of MedicineSan JuanUSA

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