A fear of animals and insects is a common phobia in the population. The development of a phobia to animals and insects occurs as follows…a fearful stimulus is transmitted to a part of the brain called the amygdala. As an example, let’s say you are stung by a bee. Being stung is a noxious stimulus that is transmitted to the amygdala. The amygdala then ‘remembers’ this fearful (noxious) stimulus. In addition, another part of the brain called the hippocampus ‘remembers’ the fearful stimulus, and each time this fearful stimulus is encountered in the future, the hippocampus triggers the amygdala to activate the fear response.
As a last resort to the development of the phobia, the thinking part of the brain called the prefrontal cortex can stop the hard-wiring of the phobia via its connection to the amygdala. But if the prefrontal cortex can’t suppress the amygdala, then the fear conditioning proceeds. Fear conditioning occurs when the fearful or noxious stimulus (sting) gets paired with the object (bees).
So this fear conditioning transforms an environmental trigger into a hard-wired phobia contained within the memory banks of the amygdala and hippocampus. So the trigger is an environmental cue, with a psychological response (thoughts of danger) and biological response (anxiety induced by the amygdala and perpetuated by the hippocampus). So this is the classic interaction of the environmental, the psychological, and the biological (genetic).
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