Evolutionary Roots of Fear

August 1, 2012 Jodi Lobozzo Aman, LCSW-R

Why is fear so powerful that it takes over even our rational mind?

The answer to that is that survival is the most important consideration in evolutionary development. In an article in the December 14, 2007 Newsweek, entitled “The Roots of Fear,” Sharon Begley writes:The evolutionary primacy of the brain’s fear circuitry makes it more powerful than the brain’s reasoning faculties. The amygdale sprouts a profusion of connections to higher brain regions--neurons that carry one-way traffic from the amygdale to neocortex. Few connections run from the cortex to the amygdala, however. That allows the amygdale to override the products of the logical, thoughtful cortex, but not vice-versa. So although it is sometimes possible to think yourself out of fear (“I know that dark shape in the alley is a garbage can”), it takes great effort and persistence. Instead, fear tends to overrule reason, as the amygdala hobbles or logic and reasoning circuits. That makes fear “far more powerful than reason,” says neurobiologist Michael Fanselow of the University of California, Los Angeles. “It evolved as a mechanism to protect us from life threatening situations, and from an evolutionary standpoint, there is nothing more important than that.”

Act Yourself out of Fear

If we cannot think ourselves out of fear and stress, we can act ourselves out of it. We first have to think differently about our fears, break them down by deconstructing them (i.e., proving them false). This is helpful.

However with this, biology is working against us. We have to engage the amygdale though action. Do something! And the amygdale will send calming signals to the neocortex! (See Biology of Fear, and Ten Things to Do For a Panic Attack)

What do you do when you are panicked?

By Jodi Lobozzo Aman

I blog here: Heal Now and Forever Be In Peace
and here: Anxiety-Schmanxiety Blog,
share here: Twitter@JodiAman, Google+
inspire here: Facebook: Heal Now and Forever Be in Peace,
Get my free E-book: What Is UP In Your DOWN? Being Grateful in 7 Easy Steps.

APA Reference
Lobozzo, J. (2012, August 1). Evolutionary Roots of Fear, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, June 18 from

Author: Jodi Lobozzo Aman, LCSW-R

January, 12 2013 at 8:00 am

I just learned that amygdales play a role in fear and soothing the anxiety. What happens to people like me who have undergone surgery? I have noticed I can be brave, and indifferent to danger. I understand it may be linked to my amygdales loss? Is there a strategy i can work on to compensate to this functional lack ? Thanks!

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

January, 13 2013 at 9:27 am

Your brain surgeon would be a good person to ask this to. It would be interesting to know if there are limits to behavior on the account of this. I'm sorry I can't be more helpful!

5 Reasons to Let Go of Anxiety in 2013 | Anxiety-Schmanxiety Blog
December, 27 2012 at 11:19 am

[...] in response to a dangerous situation is biologically designed to keep us safe. But Anxiety has no point. Anxiety has us feeling like we are in danger when we [...]

August, 11 2012 at 12:28 pm

Talking yourself out of fear is like breaking the wash cycle. The anxiety that propels the unknown potential doom only enforces our brains to choose between fight and flight. This idea of talking ourselves out of why it is we are afraid and eventually coming to the root of the problem, being able to tell yourself you are safe and nothing's happened but your anxiety is taking over, is so huge to letting go of fear. Knowing yourself and what calms you down ( music, self talk, yoga) can always help to build a routine daily for our mental check ins. These then become part of our lifestyle and routine, which help us maintain closeness with ourselves. Great article and wonderful ideas!-PsychedinSF

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

August, 11 2012 at 9:22 pm

Thank you! That is very kind! So glad you stopped by!

August, 7 2012 at 4:34 pm

I just remembered now that I didn't read that post yet. I smiled when i saw the question at the end. "What do you do when you are panicked?"
I do something, anything. I need to keep busy, to move, to react. Today i panicked, and doing housework, laundry has helped, but when panic became paralyzing and moving became difficult, i kept my mind busy by trying to write.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

August, 11 2012 at 9:23 pm

I read what you wrote, amazing!

Bryan Zepp
August, 2 2012 at 9:34 pm

I enjoyed your article, and I have read the comments posted, however I think that there is a little more to the roots of fear. There is a reaction between the brain and the nervous system that fear triggers via stress, and adrenalin pours into the body and yes I do believe that thought is pushed back, I don't believe that it is paralyzed, because the body enters a state of hyper sensitivity, the muscles clench, heart rate increases, we start to sweat, and a myriad of other things. The topic in my blog tonight was "Courage and Fear what does it me?" please check it out and let me know what you think. I build upon what you have written and take it a bit further. Your blog is probably better written but I would appreciate your feedback.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

August, 3 2012 at 10:43 am

Thanks Brian, I am headed over there!

Louise G
August, 1 2012 at 6:57 pm

I remind myself, often, that 'avoidance strengthens fear' -- particularly when it comes to doing the things I am fearful of doing. When we avoid doing something, we have a momentary relief -- and fear says -- see, that feels good not to do it -- so that next time I go to do that which I fear, the voice reminds me how good it felt last time not to do it and.... the cycle continues -- except with each, not doing, there is a chemical shift that confirms, how good it feels not to do.... hence, avoidance strengthens fear :)
and you are so right -- doing nothing never gets me anything that I want :) well said Jodi.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

August, 1 2012 at 7:52 pm

Thanks for saying "well said." I was totally thinking that of what you said! You put it so well!

August, 1 2012 at 11:53 am

This is easier said than done. I have bipolar, anxiety disorder and I have panic attacks over what would seem to be something simple, like walking through the mall. I will try it though.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

August, 1 2012 at 12:12 pm

Thanks Michele, it's just that doing nothing never gets you anywhere. Unless is a disciplined meditation doing nothing, but I would say this was doing something, too. Hope that makes sense!

August, 1 2012 at 11:04 am

As this article suggests I am often paralyzed by fear and panic. The " dark shape in the alley" usually wouldn't effect me. It is the dark shape in my beliefs that would have this effect! It is then that I become paralyzed. But if it involves the safety of another I am propelled to act.
I really love your posts! They always speak to me!

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

August, 1 2012 at 12:13 pm

Thanks so much Stanley! I'm glad you get something out of them! Keep up the efforts!

Leave a reply