Physiological components of the fear response

We all know what it is like to feel afraid; we may sweat more, feel flushed, experience changes in our breathing, increases in heart rate, intestinal discomfort, muscular tension, dry mouth, butterflies in the stomach, and so on. There has been an enormous amount of research and theoretical discussion on the physiological subsystems that subsume these experiences of fear (e.g., Barlow, 2002). The important point that we would like to emphasise here about the physiological components of fear is that the majority of factor-analytic work, on both observed and self-reported symptoms of fear or anxiety, suggests a clear distinction between such physiological or somatic reactivity and cognitive or psychic components of fear or anxiety (Barlow & Allen, 2004; Rachman, 2004). This distinction mirrors Lang's tripartite analysis of fear which we discussed earlier and, as we shall see, also has clear implications for an understanding of fear order and fear disorder.

We suggest that physiological changes are but one component of what we have called the fear module (see Chapter 5). When fear is generated, either via the appraisal route or via the associative route, then the fear module "takes over" the SPAARS

FEAR FEAR

Figure 6.3 Cycles of appraisal involved in the generation of fear.

FEAR FEAR

Figure 6.3 Cycles of appraisal involved in the generation of fear.

system, which reconfigures to deal with the appraised threat (Ohman & Mineka, 2001). Such reconfiguration serves to bias associated attention systems to the detection of further threat (Dalgleish & Watts, 1990; Eysenck, 1997; Williams et al. 1997) and prepares the individual for action—the fight or flight response.

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