Question by Dr. Watson: What is the physical reason for trembling and cold flashes with fear?
Why is it that when we feel afraid we tremble, or experience erratic flashes in temperature? What part of the body is responsible for this and what is the purpose of these sensations? I’m just curious, neuroscience fascinates me.
Answer by The Public Voice
What is Fear?
Fear is a chain reaction in the brain that starts with a stressful stimulus and ends with the release of chemicals that cause a racing heart, fast breathing and energized muscles, among other things, also known as the fight-or-flight response. The stimulus could be a spider, a knife at your throat, an auditorium full of people waiting for you to speak or the sudden thud of your front door against the door frame.
The brain is a profoundly complex organ. More than 100 billion nerve cells comprise an intricate network of communications that is the starting point of everything we sense, think and do. Some of these communications lead to conscious thought and action, while others produce autonomic responses. The fear response is almost entirely autonomic: We don’t consciously trigger it or even know what’s going on until it has run its course.
Because cells in the brain are constantly transferring information and triggering responses, there are dozens of areas of the brain at least peripherally involved in fear. But research has discovered that certain parts of the brain play central roles in the process:
Thalamus – decides where to send incoming sensory data (from eyes, ears, mouth, skin)
Sensory cortex – interprets sensory data
Hippocampus – stores and retrieves conscious memories; processes sets of stimuli to establish context
Amygdala – decodes emotions; determines possible threat; stores fear memories
Hypothalamus – activates “fight or flight” response
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