The impact of fear on the human brain is very powerful: it completely changes the way we process information.
“When people are frightened, the parts of the brain that are responsible for rational thinking cease to dominate”, Dr. Bruce Perry explains, quoted in an article published on the Time magazine website.
When faced with a threat, the cortex, which is responsible for risk assessment and actions, ceases to function. In other words, logical thinking is replaced by overwhelming emotions, thus favoring short-term solutions and sudden reactions.
On the other hand, interpretation of the environment helps us to survive disasters. Joseph LeDoux, professor of psychology at New York University, explains that this mechanism “monopolizes the brain resources to help face the threat”.
This type of behavior has advantages and disadvantages. Rapid response helps us guard against unexpected attacks. Furthermore, the risk assessment failure can be as dangerous.
A traumatic event has long-term consequences. Anything that reminds us about the threat triggers an involuntary state of fear. Events of this type lead to chain reactions in the human brain: people become more anxious, the reaction rate increases as well as attention to any sensations that might be related to the traumatic experience.
Regarding terrorist attacks in Boston, the researchers quoted in the article believe that this general fear effect is wanted by villains. Choosing symbolic events or places is not so random.
Unfortunately, due to this impact of fear, people prefer to take refuge in harmful habits in an attempt to cope with these unsettling emotions. For example, they may start drinking more alcohol or taking sedatives. Sleep does not help to eliminate negative emotions and painful moments fixed in our memory or reduce the risk of post-traumatic stress (PTSD).
But statistics show that approximately 80% of those exposed to trauma will not suffer from PTSD. Studies also suggest that socialization and expressing emotions have a calming effect.
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