What is Fear?

The emotion fear can be thought of as similar to a computer program. It accepts input in the form of perceptions of the environment, then analyzes that input to assess whether we are at risk of some harm and what we should do about it. Fear intensity increases to the extent that the harm is seen as severe, that it is approaching quickly, and that we are likely to be susceptible.

Once fear is evoked it energizes and guides self-protective actions. But what counts as self-protective varies by circumstances and the intensity of the fear. For instance, fear can motivate people  to pay closer attention to the news. This is a means of monitoring the threat to well-being and might produce information about actions that could taken to reduce risk. If there is some clear path to mitigating the risk – such as a vaccine -- fear can provide the motivation for the protective behavior. But, sometimes there is no effective means of reducing the threat. In this situation, people often seek to manage their fear nonetheless.