How you doing? I was recently asked if I would do a short little lecture related to Halloween, I guess, and really talking about the psychology of fear and death. What a beautiful topic. But you know I actually think it's kind of cool. We do have Halloween coming up. It's sort of a celebration, I guess you'd say, of fear and death of a sort and what a great context to bring in a little bit of psychology. So, let's do it. Boo Who, You? The Psychology of Fear and Death. Here we go. [LAUGH] I often realize, over and over again, how important this one slide is to some extent to explaining a lot of the interesting aspects of human behavior. This is again parts of our midbrain, in the very middle part of our brain. And when it comes to issues of the psychology of fear you need to understand this circuit, the circuit that involves this green part, the yellow part that swings around and that blue part in the middle, which we'll call the amygdala, and hippocampus and the thalamus specifically. This is a circuit in the brain whose job it is to keep us alive when we encounter sudden unexpected danger. In fact, ultimately it's goal is to make sure that danger is not unexpected, that we're ready for it. Does that sound like fear? The anticipation of danger? We should be getting kind of close. So, let's just walk through this circuit. Very simple and if you've taken any of my courses before this will be all very familiar. The green bits here are the amygdala and I sometimes joke around and say this is our spider sense. But literally information that's coming from the external world and impacting the brain Is constantly being monitored by the amygdala for potential signs of threat, danger. Something literally that could attack us or even attack somebody else, or in some more general way bring a negative force into our life, lets say. So it's looking for danger, it's looking for threat and when it sees threat, it does two things. The first thing is it changes our body. So it flips us from what we would sometimes call our parasympathetic mode, which is our relaxation kind of mode, the relaxation mode's about keeping our body upkept, it's maintenance. It's basically delivering the nutrients to the body and leaching those out of the food sources, getting rid of the waste is doing the basic housekeeping for keeping our body alive and healthy for the long term. But when we're in the face of threat, long term survival is not important. Short term survival is. So when the amygdala kicks in, it kicks us out of that relaxation mode and into what we sometimes call fight or flight mode. It's technically the sympathetic nervous system that's kicking in. We have, basically, when threat is sensed the thalamus directs our attention to the sources of the threat. And also through the hypothalamus can release hormones through our body like cortisol and others that get our body ready for action. Okay? They make our heart beat faster. Our lungs will bring in more oxygen. All that oxygen gets sent to our muscles and our muscles then get ready to actually take on the threat, so fight it, or to get the heck out of there, to run away as quickly as we can. And that's our body's response to what it perceives as a short term threat, okay. Now, it does something else too that's really relevant for fear. In addition to getting the body ready to deal with this threat now it also really kicks in this, they hippocampus. The hippocampus is responsible for storing memories of events that happened in our life. If anybody has various forms of amnesia, especially so-called anterior grade amnesia, this is what's damaged. And if this area is damaged, they It can't lay down any new memories. Okay? So this is the part of the brain that stores conscious memories. And in the case when the amygdala gets lit up, what this does is store information not only about everything that's happening now but also about what was happening just prior to the amygdala being stimulated. Okay? It kind of has a retroactive action, kind of like if you're recording something on these PVRs nowadays. You can record a show that's already in progress, but it goes back to the beginning of the show and starts it. That's kind of what the hippocampus does. What was happening before this danger emerged? And, it stores that information. Why does it do that? It's doing that because if you get out of this situation now, you would rather not be in it in the future. You would rather anticipate the danger than face it. If you can anticipate it, then you can be ready for it before it comes. And that might mean running away before the danger actually even exists or if it's some danger that you are going to choose to fight, it might mean preparing, getting ready, getting yourself all set, maybe hiding an ambush, doing things like that. Being able to anticipate a danger is extremely valuable. But you can only anticipate a danger when you know it's a danger, and so that first time when it's a danger your just there right? Your in it. You are surviving or not but your brain is already sort of getting you ready for the next time and it's doing that by invoking the hippocampus. So let's think of those two things so far as we build the story. We've got this circuit that's both getting our body right now, but also laying down memory traces that will help us if we're in this situation in the future. Okay, so let's hold onto that. All right, how does this turn into fear if we want to talk about fear specifically? So in this figure they label that sympathetic nervous system, heart pounding and sweating. And there are, in fact, a number of theories. I'll give you these really quickly. But some of the early theories suggested that you see a danger, let's say a snake and let's say you just kind of step and there's a snake right by your leg right now and you're like, crap, there's a snake here. What's happening? Well, two of the early theories were a little different. Some of these differences are subtle but they are important. So the James Lange theory says first your sympathetic system kicks in. So you start to feel all those feelings and then that's followed very quickly by emotion and in this case fear. Okay. The Cannon-Bard Theory, again, subtle difference. But it just says no, no. These two things happen simultaneously. You feel the fear and emotion. These people were arguing quite a bit when a couple of other theories came in. And I'm going to focus mostly on these latter two. The first one is really a take on James Lange, but it adds a critical component and that's the cognitive label, what we'll call cognitive appraisal. So there's a really cool thing with this theory that I want to highlight. So the first thing is there's a snake there, you step there. Now according to this theory, it's the sympathetic nervous system that starts first. You get that feeling of being ready Activated. But while that's happening, your mind is kind of assessing the situation, looking at what's going on, and basically asking, okay, why am I so geared up? Right now, if you see that snake around you and you realize that's a danger, then it's the appraisal of the danger that turns the activation of your sympathetic system into a specific emotion. In this case, fear. Okay, here's the critical point from a theory like Schaffer's. The critical point is that at the time of the activation of your system that the emotion is undifferentiated. You'd have the same reaction to winning a lottery ticket as almost stepping on a rattlesnake. In both cases, your system gets really siked up. What turns one into exaltation and the other into fear is the appraisal. Okay you appraise the situation and if it's a lottery ticket you're like, " my goodness I can buy anything I can do anything." And that takes that energy and makes it positive, and happy, and euphoric. The rattlesnake looking at it and sensing, "Uh-oh it bites me I'm dead." I’m in trouble that’s going to create the fear okay, so it’s the cognitive appraisal phrase of the situation that turns the activation into the emotion. All right and this is generally what people believe now, psychologists, except there is some discussion of this thing. Maybe the appraisal actually even happens before the sympathetic nervous system is kicked in. And the claim here is, let's say you're one of these crazy guys that goes playing with snakes all the time, you see them on T.V. here's a little rattlesnake, I'm going to hold it up and poke it a few times. You think what is with these people, but if you do that every day, and if you feel very comfortable with it, now if you encounter a snake, you might not even get the activation. You might not, feel your system geared up. Your system has in a sense, assessed that is not a threat, for you. You're pretty cool, with these critters. And what that means, is cool, is that your sympathetic nervous system, doesn't get hyped up in the first place. There's a little bit of disagreement still remaining about whether appraisal can short circuit the whole sympathetic nervous system reaction at all. But I think we can say, that this would be a very, when it comes to, also things like rattlesnakes in a very unlikely situation. That the shaft or singer two factor model is what we believe. Okay, so let's kind of retrace that. The amygdala fires. Gets the sympathetic nervous system wired up. Gets you ready to deal with the energy with the situation, but you do a cognitive appraisal first and it's your appraisal that determines what emotion you actually fear, feel, sorry. But if the situation is one that it dangerous to you, the emotion will probably be fear, okay. At the same time, that you're now feeling that emotion. Your brain is paying attention to everything that happened and storing a bunch of information about this event. Cool? We know where activation comes from, we know how it's transferred to your emotion. Let's now get to death and stuff like that. All right, from the philosopher Jim Morrison, lead singer of The Doors, people fear death even more than pain, it's strange that they fear death. Life hurts a lot more than death. At the point of death, the pain is over. Let's talk about death for a moment, when I'm saying the sympathetic nervous system is all about short term In term survival. That survival world, word is critical. We are hard wired to survive. Now yes, some people take their own lives and yes we can apparently overcome this very natural tendency to protect our life. But that's the natural tendency. That's the desire we have. We're hard-wired to try to avoid death at all costs. Very low-level kind of thing. Even though when we take it to the higher level, why do we fear death? I mean I think we can say there's two things at least that we can point to. One is most of us are worried about the process of dying, right? How do I get from here to there? And how much pain and suffering is involved? So, we're all worried about the pain and suffering that typically accompanies the act of dying. And that's scary we can all imagine ourselves in a horrific car accident and going through all that pain and suffering. Which by the way isn't usually as bad as you think because quite often your body gets filled with endorphins pretty quickly and you become very numb to the pain so you don't tend to feel pain as long as we dread you might. Just make you feel a little bit better but there's also a different thing we don't like about death and that's the fact that we no longer exist. Most of us want our life to be about something. We want to have an impact. We want to do something and once we die, of course, we can't have a whole lot of impact after our death unless we've really had a lot impact in our life. Somehow we've done something while we're alive that carries over after our death. But our ability to do anything of relevance obviously stops at the point of our death. And so that's I think is something we both don't like the transition but we also don't like the idea of not existing anymore. And it's sort of disappearing into the lost sands of time so to speak. That's not very hospitable. But even over and above all of that is just that hardwired reaction to fight against death. That sympathetic nervous system reaction and that's in there and that kicks up and that can always make us feel emotional. That's what it kind of does. Alright, let's take death a step further here now. And let's talk about things we do to kind of play with this a little bit. So let's talk about horror movies. Why are horror movies so prevalent? Why do so many people like to go to horror movies? Well, it's a safe form of playing with your sympathetic nervous system. So that sympathetic nervous system, when it kicks in, it gives rise to emotions. Now, in the case of if you were in a horror film and something happened, you would feel nothing but fear. You know, if there was really a psychopath running around trying to kill everyone and you were in that situation, you would almost always feel fear. But, in a movie situation it's kind of subtlely different. In a movie situation they scare you, first of all. Let me come back to that in a moment. But, and you feel scared, you feel fear for a moment, but that quickly resolves into something else. It usually resolves into a kind of humor. A kind of like, they got me there, and so there's almost immediately a relief, followed by the fear. You anticipate the fear and then they do it to you at some point. You're [SOUND], there it is, but then you instantly safe. And that safe comes with, it's like escaping a very dangerous situation. Situation, you're free of it. It's like when you wake up from a horrible dream and you feel that amazing release from it. So horror movies are a way to kind of very safely play with fear and then immediately have that fear resolved. Usually immediately. Different filmmakers do things differently. Alfred Hitchcock was the king of suspense. You always felt there was more. You always felt there was something coming. Let's talk about that for a moment, suspense. Goes back to the hippocampus. I remember the most scary movie I ran into was Jaws. Wasn't technically a horror movie [LAUGH] but it kind of was. The Jaws movie they had that famous [MUSIC], And early in the movie, they would play that little song just as something was about to happen. So you would hear that, you'd hear it, you'd hear it, and then something would scare the crap out of you, okay, so what happens then. Of course your amigdula fires. It fires up the hippocampus and your hippocampus codes that part before the fear. So now, later in the movie, they can play that in. [MUSIC] And now you're in that anticipation of danger mode that we call suspense. And that sort of prolongs the fear reaction, because now you're anticipating danger, anticipating danger, anticipating danger. And sometimes in movies they intentionally then don't give you the danger, or they just have something funny happen, which again, resolves that danger in an interesting way. They're again playing with all this, but notice that's the hippocampus. In fact, it's become so common in scary movies to have certain sounds and certain themes, that we've now learned these across the movies. And just about any movie now, they can, just by the way they play the music, they heighten it up a little bit. They do whatever, we will start to feel suspense. And again, that's our hippocampus' learned from our movie viewing, that this is the stuff that happens before the scary part in the movie. Now of course, every now and then movies will give you no suspense at all. They'll just have you, do do do do, everything's fine and then boom. They try to scare you. Again, playing with that, trying to catch you unready for the fear. Sometimes they can make you fearful and then it never pays off. Sometimes not etc., but they're kind of playing with your sympathetic nervous system but always in the safe environment. Another example that fits with that really well are things like haunted houses that we might go to at Halloween and Halloween they set up haunted barns here or there, or whatever. I'm using in part, kind of situations. And again, we can go into those. We know we're going to be scared. They're using scary sounds. They're using all these same suspenseful kinds of stimuli to get us scared. And they may even do things like reach out and grab us if they have live actors in their haunted house. But again, we always know it's safe. So even if someone grabs us, what do we do? Scream, and go running over to the other side, and laugh with our friends. Right we chuckle like whoa man that guy got me, but immediately the fear is followed by a sort of release from the fear. And this seems to be something that we humans find enjoyable to have these kind of actions. To bring this full circle to rap this up and go to Halloween. I want to kind of talk about to types of Halloween here, as implied, because I think it gets us thinking about this relationship we have with death. I have this thing that goes through my head every now and then, I think about, which is we're all born with a terminal disease. We're all born knowing we're going to die. We have ways of dealing with it but that's with us. I mean it literally is like we're a bunch of terminal patients walking around, interacting with each other and for the most part trying to ignore the fact that we're terminal patients. We're trying to find value in the life we're living, depending on your religious beliefs you may also have come to the opinion that really you won't die at all. Some people believe that, some people think that's a convenient lie to tell oneself so you don't have to deal with your mortality, but whatever. Even then, even if you believe firmly in an afterlife, there's still something weird about losing this one. You know you have this one, you know you have this life, and you understand this life, and at one point it will end. And we know that we may be the only animal that knows that and we have to deal with that somehow. How do we deal with that? How do we come to terms with what really is a very scary truth? Wow, this has gotten heavy. I always liked the Mexican Dia De Los Muertas. It's not really Halloween, because it makes a nice explicit connection. The idea of Dia De Los Muertas, which is the Day of the Dead, is really a reconnection with your ancestors, and it's really almost a nice thing, while you're alive you are celebrating the dead who went before you. So, day of the dead is a positive. It's thinking of your past mothers and fathers or grandfathers or uncles. These people that you love that are no longer with you and your kind of celebrating. And you're kind of in so doing, acknowledging that you will be among them, and you would like to be remembered, and you would like to think that your children will be celebrating you when it's the Dia de los Muertos and you're no longer with them. So it's a kind of continuity ritual, and to some extent, I see that as a way of humans feel like, regardless of their religious beliefs, my body may die, but I as an entity will continue to live on in the minds of those who love me and will continue to be remembered and it’s kind of an explicit tradition for doing that now whether that ultimately morphed in to the kind of things we think of this Halloween. Halloween's kind of weird right? We take our kids and we dress them up with scary stuff and put them in this scary situation, which probably most kids would just want nothing to do with, but then we throw in a bunch of candy. [LAUGH] And so, somehow we're pairing these scary images with a very pleasant stimulus. Something they like a lot. Sugar. It's not necessarily good for them but they like it a lot and so we are almost indoctrinating our children into this horror move kind of mentality that you're going to have to live with death and fear and so let's have this day a year when we kind of embrace death and fear, but again do so in a very safe way. And in a way where by the time the day's over, and you have this pillowcase full of candy, you want to do it again next year. It's really interesting, and you will see kids, depending on their age, can be scared by some of the decorations. And sometimes the horror movie thing, we used to have a spider that dropped down, we could release something. And it would drop down. And so that was literally scaring the kids and giving that, is that mean, I don't think that's mean, but giving that sort of horror movie mentality as part of the ritual. But I think, when I step back and think about these things, I think these are all ways for us to, Flirt with the idea of death, and to think about the idea of death, but to try to do so in safe ways and in ways that doesn't make us really get deep about it. Because it's the kind of thing we have no answer for, and so we can only go so deep. And so some of these rituals that we have around fear and death, I think are ways of us kind of dealing with the human situation. The fact that we're born with a terminal disease. I don't know if this ended up being useful or depressing or what. But hopefully you'll think about the psychology of fear and death a little bit this Halloween. Enjoy doing so. All right, so boo! [LAUGH] Have a good one. Bye bye.