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How do humans and animals cope with one of the strongest emotions: fear

Heart racing, palms sweating, skin prickling are some of the things we experience when we feel frightened. So how do humans cope with one of our strongest emotions - fear? Carrie Gracie takes an unflinching examination of fear with René Hurlemann, Lucy Bolton and Liana Zanette.

Canadian biologist Liana Zanette explains breakthrough research on how intimidation changes the ecosystem. German neuroscientist René Hurlemann tells the story of very rare individuals who go through life without feeling fear. And horror film expert Lucy Bolton asks what scares us in the cinema, and why we deliberately seek to be made afraid.

Photo: A man holding a child's hand in a dark tunnel, Credit: Jay Directo/AFP/Getty Images

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44 minutes

Last on

Mon 21 Oct 2013 02:06GMT


  • How our brain processes fear

    Duration: 12:07

  • What scares different people

    Duration: 10:53

  • 60 Second Idea: Filming your fear

    Duration: 05:33

  • The Power of fear in Nature

    Duration: 11:57

René Hurlemann

René Hurlemann
Professor René Hurlemann is a clinical psychiatrist and neuroscientist from the University of Bonn in Germany. He is one of the leaders in world-wide research on how the brain processes fear and terror. For the past 10 years, he has been studying patients with a very rare genetic disorder who feel no fear because of damage to the amygdala region of their brain. René's  research has uncovered vital new information on how we experience fear, which could be significant for all people with anxiety related disorders.


Liana Zanette

Liana Zanette
Dr Liana Zanette is associate professor in the Biology Department at the University of Western Ontario, Canada. Following experiments on song birds, she argues fear itself is powerful enough to reduce the birth rate of animals who are frightened of prey, and in turn affects the way they forage for food and interact with the ecosystem. She believes predator induced fear causes animals to be constantly on guard, and means they spend less time feeding on plants and trees. This she says creates a greener landscape, but it is also a landscape shaped by fear.

Lucy Bolton

Lucy Bolton

Dr Lucy Bolton is a lecturer in film studies at Queen Mary, University of London. Her main areas of research are film philosophy and feminist theory. She is the author of Film and Female Consciousness. She is also fascinated by the physical power of horror films, particularly the Japanese horror film Ringu, which typically for Japanese horror, focuses on the paranormal, with a little girl ghost as protagonist. Lucy will be using this example to explore the significance of the female role in horror, and to show how this film genre exposes our vulnerabilities by subverting normal life.

Sixty Second Idea to Improve the World

Horror film expert Dr Lucy Bolton suggests conquering fear with a digital camera, so that people who suffer from fear and anxiety film what terrifies them. Then, sufferers would need to turn the film into a comedy, an animation or even an art house film. The idea is that transforming the object of their fear would diffuse and conquer it. 

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