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February 01, 2006

On Fear II: Causes of Fear and Phobias

Follow-up to On Fear I: Functions of Fear from Reverie

Causes of Fear

All causes of Fear can be divided into four categories: intensity, novelty, hereditary natural reflexes and reasons hidden in human social interaction. Pain and loud noise are examples of intensive stimuli; unfamiliar faces can cause Fear because of the novelty. Situations known to have threatened the members of the same species for an extensive period of time may evolve into natural causes of Fear for this particular species.

John Bowbly – a famous scientist studying the development of children psychology – listed a number of inborn determinants of Fear, which he labelled ‘natural stimuli and their derivations’. Such stimuli as loneliness, unfamiliarity, sudden approach, sudden change of stimulus, height and pain were classified as natural stimuli. The core stimuli of Fear are darkness, animals, unknown objects and unfamiliar people.

Bowlby named loneliness as the most profound and the most significant cause of Fear. Other natural stimuli, such as unfamiliarity and sudden change in stimulation, have much more considerable impact if they occur on the basis of loneliness.

Bowbly also points out a group of cultural determinants of fear that are believed to be pure results of cultivation and cultural upbringing. For example, even the dimmed sound of air raid siren can plant fear in people. Bowbly notes that many of the cultural determinants of fear could represent natural determinants subtly hidden by misinterpretation, rationalization or projection of Fear. The Fear of thieves, for example, or ghosts, could be the rationalization of fear of darkness; the Fear of lightening bolts – rationalization of the fear of thunder storms. William Richman, psychologist, describes the process of cultivation of cultural determinants of fear using the concept of traumatic stipulation, that is to say, according to Richman, events or situations that cause pain can cause fear with or without the pain occurring again.


Sometimes Fears develop into forms of uncontrollable psychological disorders and become phobias. How does the natural emotion transform into a mental illness? Science doesn’t quite answer the question. According to the basic theory attempting to explain the occurrence of phobias and other severely inapt reactions to stimuli (a.k.a. irrational fears), Fears are psychological traumas, experienced in one’s childhood, forgotten, but stamped on one’s subconscious.

Most of the hypothesis explaining phobias can be divided into two major groups. One of them makes links to Freud’s concepts of psychoanalysis and the other one explains phobias using Pavlov’s conditional reflex theory. According to Russian scientists, a vast majority of phobias form as pathological stamping of conditional reflex. For example, the persistent fear caused by disruption of cardio-vascular system, pains in the heart, cold sweats occurring during one’s presence at open spaces may further develop into agoraphobia.

According to the classical conditional reflex theory, conditional stimuli gradually lose the ability to provoke reaction, if not supported by unconditional stimuli. Phobias can last for years without being supported by repeated exposure to stimuli; however this does not contradict the theory. The paces of shaping and fading of a phobia very much depend on the emotional background accompanying the formation of the temporary link between the source of fear and the fear itself.

Clinical researchers found that importunate Fears have a tendency to generalise with time. For example, initially a person develops a fear of trains due to experiencing an extensive psychological trauma related to having a heart attack during one of his train rides. At the second stage, Fear kicks in at the moment of anticipation of the train and the related traumatic experience. At the final stage irrational fear may occur with the mere notion of the situation. Quite often such obtrusive notions lead to extremely affective tense reactions.

Importunate Fears evolve with the evolution of human society. A Soviet psychiatrist Davidenkov noted that we used to fear mentally challenged, crazy or psychologically unstable people, we feared cancer, crazy dogs, syphilis; some time later we developed phobias to arterial hypertonic disorders, heart attacks, myocardial infarcts, leucosis. These changes are felt especially strong within the class of social phobias. The current phobias are much related to the crash of ideals and values, aliens (as in creatures from other planets as opposed to from other countries), STD s and AIDS.

In a vast majority of cases we develop fears in our childhood. Scientists note that emotionally sensitive children are more likely to develop fears being influenced by the following factors: presence of fear in their parents; a sense of worry in relation to the child, over-protectiveness, isolation from the children of the same age, a big number of proscriptions coming from the parent of the same sex, as well as total freedom granted by the parent of the opposite sex, also a great number of unrealised threats coming from all the grown-ups in the family, the lack of role identification with the parent of the same sex (predominantly in boys); psychological traumas such as a scare; unstable psychological atmosphere in the family and confusion caused by a switch of roles between the two parents.

There are other known hypotheses explaining the mechanism and cause of fear. In the latest decades scientists have been working to determine a gene of fear. Some scientists have detected certain changes in chromosomes of the lab rats, that were conditionally exposed to electrical current as stimuli of pain and thus fear, but it does not prove that fears can be hereditary.

January 28, 2006

On Fear I: Functions of Fear

Writing about web page

What is Fear and what are the causes of Fear? In what ways can Fear be constructive and destructive? How to cope with Fear? How is human Fear different from that of animals? Could aggression, anger and cruelty be manifestations of Fear in their essence?

We all fear, which makes Fear about the most common and the most natural emotion we experience. Fear can be constructive, but can also be dangerous to the point where it leads to decay of personality. Fear has many degrees and correlates with many other emotions like anger or obsession.

The outstanding Russian physiologist Pavlov defined Fear as a ‘natural reflex; passively defensive reaction accompanied by slight disruption of brain functions’. Fear is based on the instinct of self-preservation and is therefore, of defensive kind. The feeling of Fear commonly occurs with shifts in the work of the nervous system, resulting in changes in heart rate, blood pressure, secretion of stomach acid. In the most general sense, the feeling of Fear is a reaction to a threat. The two most universal and at the same time fatal threats are death and crash of life values.

In their article The Psychology and Physiology of Fear, Scherbatikh and Nozdrachev define three principal functions of Fear.

On the surface level, Fear is a rather uncomfortable experience, that often upsets people, immobilises and may cause psychosomatic disorders. However, Fear was first generated in the process of evolution as a defence mechanism against threats from the nature. Later, with the creation and establishment of human society, many manifestations of fear have become rudimentary and inadequate. Pavlov wrote about our ancestors: “They had pure and straightforward business relations with the nature and its inhabitants. They were always either on the run or in a fight, both involving muscles”. This explains the set of symptoms Fear has engrained into human organism that instantly provides the thought-to-be necessary blood supply to muscles and mobilises the available energy within the body.

This would be the positive-constructive function of Fear. The ‘complex’ of Fear mobilises the energy that can come in handy in coping with threats in critical situations. This is mainly achieved by the influx of adrenalin in blood that supplies muscles with extra oxygen and minerals. The subsequent pailing of the skin is the most obvious indication of the effect of adrenalin: it forces blood to flow back from the surface of the body and stomach to be redistributed in muscles. Other Fear-caused reflexes seen in humans and animals had also been of targeted use: ‘hair standing up at the back of one’s neck (or on the head)’ was once designed to scare off the potential attacker, while the so-called ‘bear’s disease’ (upset stomach leading to excretion) reduced one’s body weight and confused the aggressor in case of necessary retreat.

The second function of Fear is in the strong negative emotions caused by pain or other unpleasant experiences. Miller in his classical experiments on mice proved Fear can be cultivated easily by putting live organisms through such unpleasant experiences. The memory of acute pain stamps itself on the subconscious of the organism essentially serving as preventative measure against encountering the cause of the pain again.

Finally, the third case when Fear arouses is in the situations when not enough information is available for one to make a weighted decision. Here, Fear dictates the strategy. Fear in this case protects the individual from both possible biological and social threats. It is in such cases that people’s organism naturally opens to and relies on a broader sphere of signals (what we could call 'become more sensitive'). Such effort may seem excessive and unnecessary, however, it serves to ensure the person takes in and considers every tiny detail in the evaluation of situation that may, in turn, save one’s life. This can also explain the nature of shyness.

So what does happen in a human body when Fear overtakes? Initially, one’s sympathetic nervous system activates, mobilising the available energy in the body and restructuring the work of all bodily organs, preparing for physical activity. This causes sudden increase in heartbeat, enlarged pupils, slows down excretion of acids and fluids (saliva) and other symptoms. At the same time, the endocrine system produces an influx of adrenalin, which narrows veins supplying the skin with blood, and in general acting similarly to sympathetic nervous system, dubbing its functions.

January 04, 2006

The Dream of Two Swarthy Ladies

The Dream of Two Swarthy Ladies

Two ladies are sleeping,
Although, no
No they are not,
Although, no
Of course they are,
Sleeping and seeing a dream

How Ivan walked into the door,
And following Ivan was the house manager
Carrying a volume of Tolstoy’s book
“War and Peace”, the second part…

Although no, not at all
Tolstoy walked in and took his coat off,
Off he took his galosh and boots,
‘Help me, Van’ya!’ – shouted he
So Van’ya grabbed an axe
And bam he hit Tolstoy on the head
Tolstoy fell. What a shame!
And all the Russian literature now rests in the chamber pot


*Сон двух черномазых дам*

Две дамы спят, а впрочем нет,
не спят они, а впрочем нет,
конечно спят и видят сон,
как будто в дверь вошел Иван,
а за Иваном управдом,
держа в руках Толстого том

«Война и мир», вторая часть…
А впрочем нет, совсем не то,
вошёл Толстой и снял пальто,
калоши снял и сапоги
и крикнул: Ванька, помоги!
Тогда Иван схватил топор
и трах Толстого по башке.
Толстой упал. Какой позор!
И вся литература русская в ночном горшке.

19 августа 1936

About the author: link

January 02, 2006

Daniil Kharms

Falling out grannies

A granny, overcome by her curiosity
Fell out of the window
Crashed on the ground and died.

From the window out stuck her head
Another granny,
Looking down for the crashed one.
But overcome by her curiosity
She too fell out, crashed and died.

Then there was the third, the fourth and the fifth granny.
After the sixth has fallen out
I got bored of looking at them.

Instead I went to the Maltsevskii market
Where, they say, someone gave a knitted shawl to a blind man



Вываливающиеся старухи

Одна старуха от чрезмерного любопытства
вывалилась из окна, упала и разбилась.
Из окна высунулась другая старуха и ста-
ла смотреть вниз на разбившуюся, но от чрез-
мерного любопытства тоже вывалилась из окна,
упала и разбилась.
Потом из окна вывалилась третья старуха,
потом четвертая, потом пятая.
Когда вывалилась шестая старуха, мне на-
доело смотреть на них, и я пошел на Мальцев-
ский рынок, где, говорят, одному слепому по-
дарили вязаную шаль.


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