Chemistry behind fear in humans combination chemical reactions

Halloween fear chemistry…

12:27 PM, 31st October 2017
Fear of chemistry

SINGAPORE: Halloween, the yearly celebration observed in a number of countries on 31 October, is the eve of the Western Christian feast of All Hallows (or Saints). Typical festive Halloween activities include trick-or-treating, attending costume parties, carving pumpkins into jack-o’-lanterns, lighting bonfires, apple bobbing, visiting haunted attractions, playing pranks, telling scary stories, and watching horror films. This Halloween lets uncover the chemistry behind the spine-tingling sense of 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.

“Fear is the expectation or the anticipation of possible harm. We know that the body is highly sensitive to the possibility of threat, so there are multiple pathways that bring that fear information into the brain,” explained Abigail Marsh, PhD, Associate Professor, Psychology, Georgetown University. Marsh’s research focuses on the neuroscience of fear and empathy in psychopaths, among other topics.


There are certain areas of the brain at least peripherally involved in fear – thalamus, sensory cortex, hippocampus, amygdale, hypothalamus. When the chemicals amygdala oxytocin dominates the person is calmer in situations of danger, while if more vasopressin increases anxiety, uncertainty and, ultimately, fear grips us and our body prepares for fight or flight. There is a particular dysfunction involving an abnormal deposit of calcium in the amygdala that produces an impairment of those nuclei to sense and experience fear.


Marsh explained that the amygdala, an evolutionarily ancient part of the human brain, is the most important structure in the fear response. Fear is the ability to recognize danger leading to an urge to confront it or flee from it. Fear can also be an instant reaction to something presently happening.

© Worldofchemicals News

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