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Psychology of Fear


Erin Hannon

Photo Courtesy of Yahoo Images
Photo Courtesy of Yahoo Images


Just in time for Halloween, the Psychology department hosted a lecture on the “Psychology of Fear.” The room was packed, with only standing room left, as students gathered to listen to Dr. Lindsey Osterman give her presentation.

The audience was very involved throughout the lecture. Even before sharing any facts or information, Dr. Osterman invited the audience to fill out an anonymous survey on their own personal fears.

Many of the fears appeared more than once, meaning many people in the audience shared that fear. Some of the top fears included: failure, bears, being alone, snakes, and death. Dr. Osterman then explained that the reason so many people have these fears is connected to evolutionary psychology and the ultimate resolution of death.

Fears are born out of evolution. Evolutionarily speaking,the human body is always better suited to deal with dangers in the environment when it is scared due to fight or flight. Many things that people are afraid of are things that can somehow kill them, or could in the past. Before modern advancements in medicine and technology, things like bears and snakes were very real threats to human lives, and fear was the body’s way of helping species survive.

The human body responds to fear in several different ways, all of which are meant to help a person survive. The brain begins to produce adrenaline and cortisol to promote alertness. The heart rate and blood pressure increase, pumping blood to the muscles and brain, preparing for either a quick decision or a quick getaway. The pupils also dilate, allowing for to take in more sensory information. this is commonly referred to as “fight or flight.”

However, while these effects are helpful in short-term situations, they can be very dangerous if they are experienced for a prolonged period of time. There are also some fears that can negatively affect or inhibit everyday lives. In order to get over these restricting fears, people can undergo several different kinds of therapy.

One method discussed at the lecture is systematic desensitization. Dr. Osterman described that this therapy is when a person is gradually introduced to the thing that the fear, until eventually, they are no longer afraid. The process of Flooding is similar to desensitization, but instead of the slow introduction, they face their fear head-on, with the help of a trained therapist who makes sure everything is conducted safely. The third method is relatively new, and it involves confronting one’s fears using virtual reality technology.

Following Dr. Osterman’s presentation, Junior Jacob Johnson a member of Psi Chi, hosted horror movie trivia. The students formed teams as they tried to guess the horror movie based on soundtrack clips, movie quotes, and unique death scenes.