Subcortical Fear System Of The Mammalian Brain The Royal Road To Understanding The Nature Of Angst

The central state of fear consists of an aversive state of mind—a pervasive nervousness and tension—accompanied by sustained, negatively valenced, apprehensive, worrying thoughts (often delusional), which inform organisms how their safety might have been threatened. Although accompanied by patterns of autonomic and behavioral arousal that surely contribute to the feeling state in a multitude of feedback and feedforward ways, the major driving force for the experiential tension appears to be a distinct, albeit widely ramifying, subcortical circuitry that induces animals to hide (freeze) in response to seemingly distant dangers and to escape (flee) when danger is more imminent. When such states of being become conditioned, by a diversity of aversive stimuli (e.g., foot shock) being temporally linked with affectively neutral environmental events, organisms begin to anticipate dangers and to protect themselves by generating adaptive emotional and cognitive responses in advance of the impending threats. However, there are many dangers in the world, and there may also be multiple, partially overlapping, systems that generate trepidation and distinct forms of negative affect as well. For instance, the system that generates social separation anxiety is substantially different than the FEAR system that will be the focus of discussion here. The convention of capitalizing FEAR and the names of other basic emotional systems of the mammalian brain is used to highlight the fact that the referents are specific neural systems (Panksepp, 1998a).

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