Monday, July 20, 2009

Fear Is Contagious

I find fear to be an important topic because many important decisions are influenced by this fundamental emotion. Last month I wrote about Fuzzy Fear and ironically I stumbled upon another interesting fear-related insight in the same magazine, New Scientist.

Results of a recent study indicate that fear is a contagious emotion. When we experience fear we emit an additional chemical in our sweat that triggers fear in those around us. This makes evolutionary sense, since groups of humans probably benefited from the rapid spreading of fear - i.e. it allowed our predecessors to quickly flee danger in unison.

This trait has interesting implications in our current society. Stock trading groups (either on trading floors or sitting next to each other) could be quickly debilitated by a rapid contagion of fear. Our military would benefit from somehow eliminating the release of fear-causing chemicals. Less experienced (and thus more fearful) doctors might negatively affect the performance of those physicians around them.

This also means that as communication over digital channels continues to proliferate and replace face-to-face contact, our culture should theoretically experience less collective fear. But this is far from reality. We have apparently developed new evolutionary fear-related triggers that depend on cold data and vivid images. It seems that collective fear is unavoidable.
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