Be Afraid: We Have Nothing To Fear But Fear Itself

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Afraid of snakes? Heights? Ebola? We’ll unpack the science of fear.

In this Oct. 2, 2014 photo, patrons line up for “Nightmare: New York,” a haunted house attraction in New York. (AP)
In this Oct. 2, 2014 photo, patrons line up for “Nightmare: New York,” a haunted house attraction in New York. (AP)

A lot of fear in the air lately.   Fear of Ebola.  Fear of beheadings.  Fear of malaise.  Fear of the markets.  Time to get a grip.  Or at least an understanding.  What is fear?  How’s it work?  In the body?  In society?  When does it debilitate us?  When, how can it actually help us focus and really perform, respond.  Extreme sports fans know something about fear.  We’ll learn from them today.  From a surfer and more.  And from the realm of science, where fear has been fascinatingly dissected.  This hour On Point:  Move over Ebola… We’re taking on fear itself.  What it is.  How it works.
-- Tom Ashbrook


Florence Williams, contributor editor at Outside Magazine. Author of "Breasts: A Natural and Unnatural History." (@flowill)

Kevin LaBar, professor in the department of pyschology and neuroscience and the Center for Cognitive Neuroscience at Duke University, where he is also a professor in the Medical School's department of psychiatry and behavioral science.

Greg Long, professional big-waver surfer.

From Tom's Reading List

Outside Magazine: The Science of Conquering Your Greatest Fears -- "Some psychologists argue that fear is our oldest emotion, existing in the earliest forms of life on earth and predating the drive to reproduce. It’s even possible that fear is the basis of the full spectrum of human emotions, as we evolved ways to calm ourselves from our well-honed anxieties. The main reason we remember anything, scientists posit, is that we must remember fear. Emotional events, but especially fearful ones, release calcium in the brain, which in turn encodes information. Thanks to fear, we have Proust."

The Atlantic: Why Do Some Brains Enjoy Fear? — "Not everyone enjoys being afraid, and I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that no one wants to experience a truly life-threatening situation. But there are those of us (well, a lot of us) who really enjoy the experience"

The Daily Beast: Why Our Brains Love Horror Movies -- "One of the more counterintuitive findings in the science of fear is that the stronger the negative emotions (fear, worry, anxiety...) a person reports experiencing during horror films, the more likely he or she is to enjoy the genre. Distress and delight are correlated."

This program aired on October 20, 2014.


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