Why do some people act deliberately


What is fear

Even today, fear of risk warns us. The "moment of shock" is, for example, the moment in which we decide how to behave in a certain situation.

The word "fear" comes from the Greek verb "agchein" and the Latin "angere". Both translate as "choke", "to constrict your throat". The German word has become internationally accepted through psychoanalysis and existential philosophy, for example in English as "angst". While fear is clearly focused on an external danger, fear is considered indeterminate.

In psychology, a distinction is made between fear as a state (state anxiety) and fear as a property (trait anxiety). While state anxiety is a temporary emotion resulting from a real danger, "trait anxiety" means that situations are assessed as dangerous even without an acute threat.

Fear expresses itself physically, among other things, by accelerating the pulse, dilating the pupils and ringing hands; psychologically it acts as a feeling of horror and hopelessness.

However, fear is not only a paralyzing, but also a mobilizing emotion. People who are afraid of impending danger are sometimes able to perform which they would not have been able to achieve under normal circumstances.

In risky or perceived risky situations, the adrenal glands release the hormones adrenaline and noradrenaline. The heart then beats faster and the blood binds more oxygen. The body is thus better able to defend itself or to flee. It is not for nothing that there is the adage that fear gives wings.

Fear can burden people and even ruin them psychologically. However, because of its warning function, it is often life-saving. Fear usually comes over people involuntarily and uncontrollably. An exception is fear as pleasure that people voluntarily expose themselves to, be it on the roller coaster or while watching a horror film.

Emotional psychology distinguishes between two conditions of fear: Some people become afraid out of excessive fear. Others feel fear in a moment of real, acute threat.

"New" fears

Today people could hardly live without fear, and their ancestors certainly couldn't have done it. Fear warns us and prevents us from taking irresponsible risks. At the same time, it mobilizes forces, be it for defense or for flight.

In the course of civilization, the immediate threats posed by nature have decreased, especially for urban people in industrialized nations.

No saber-toothed tiger threatens us anymore, the last brown bear was also exterminated in Germany. The situation is different in parts of Asia, Africa and America. In some areas of India, lumberjacks or rubber tappers still have to watch out for tigers and elephants.

In the affluent society, however, new fears have developed: be it the fear of nuclear power, unemployment or genetically modified food. The modern fears have also become a political factor: In the western world, the green parties first addressed the fears about the environment and thus entered the parliaments.

Philosophy of fear

In ancient times, Plato and Aristotle understood fear primarily as a physical reaction that relates to concrete objects. So fear does not appear in Aristotle's work "De anima" (On the soul). The western church father Augustine (354-430 AD) saw fear as one of the four main human passions. He distinguished the low fear of punishment from the higher valued fear of guilt out of awe of God.

The Danish theologian Sören Kierkegaard (1813-1855) regarded existential fear as an essential feature of human thought and free will. According to Kierkegaard, fear should be overcome by leaping into faith.

For the German existential philosopher Martin Heidegger (1889-1976), fear was a basic condition in which existence is thrown back on itself. In fear, existence reveals its finiteness and nullity, because man perceives existence as "being to death".

Theories about fear

The theories on fear come mainly from psychoanalysis, learning theory and cognitive psychology. In Sigmund Freud's psychoanalysis, the ego is regarded as a "place of fear". The ego is instilled with feelings of fear from three sources: through fear signals from the outside world ("real fear"), through the drives of the id, i.e. the unconscious ("neurotic fear"), and through threats to the superego ("conscience fear").

The learning theory says that many fears arise in the course of life through individual learning processes, but are also reduced again through learning processes. The explanation for this experience-related influence on fear is conditioning, i.e. learning to react to stimuli and the instrumental learning of defense reactions. For example, children learn from parents who show certain fears to adopt those fears.

The cognitive fear theory emphasizes that the emotional consequences of a person's information processing can lead to fear. Fear then corresponds to the "loss of internal control" (J. B. Rotger) or "learned helplessness" (E. P. Seligman). Fear is therefore the result of a loss of control through strangeness, uncertainty, abandonment or the anticipation of danger.

Phenomena and therapies

Particular phenomena of fear are fearlessness and fearfulness. Pathological fearlessness means that the individual ignores any danger out of subliminal aggressiveness. Fear, on the other hand, is "playing with fire", in which danger has an invigorating effect.

As far as fear takes on pathological, i.e. pathologically obsessed, forms, it should be treated. Because fear can lead to permanent emotional damage, be it to "chronic panic" or permanent "pessimistic expectations". Fear has therefore become a much discussed topic in emotional psychology in recent years.

A way often chosen today to overcome phobias is exposure therapy, in which the patient is repeatedly exposed to the anxious situation. Specifically: Anyone who is afraid of spiders will be carefully accustomed to dealing with spiders reasonably fearlessly. The fear is practically trained away, although the fear memory remains.