March 21, 2023

What does science say about being afraid?

Fear, or being scared, is a feeling we all have experienced at one time or another, especially during the Halloween season. But what exactly causes fear and why do some people get scared of things others do not?

Julianna Carillo, sophomore prenursing student, said she does not get scared as easily as others do.

“I think being scared is natural, and I think how prone you are to feeling fear just has to do with who you are as a person alone,” Carillo said. “I’m definitely in the middle of it. It takes a lot to make me jump but I don’t enjoy it, either.”

Masha Sowell, junior psychology major, thinks that fear is merely a survival instinct.

“I think fear is a very necessary thing,” Sowell said. “It keeps us from doing things that could possibly kill us. We see something that has danger associated with it, and our bodies instantly react with fear to deter us from that danger.”

Sowell also thinks people’s ability to overcome their fears has to do with their histories.

“People who are more easily scared most likely deal with anxiety or trauma, I’d assume,” Sowell said.

Dr. Susan Purrington, associate professor of psychology, had thoughts on the factors that go into fear.

“Fear has several components, such as thoughts (i.e. I am in danger), physiological sensations (i.e. heart racing) and behavioral responses (i.e. fleeing a situation),” Purrington said.

Along with the factors of fear, there are different theories as to where the feeling truly comes from.

“One theory is that people can be conditioned to fear a situation or object if it was paired with a scary or traumatic event in the past,” Purrington said. “But another theory is that earlier threatening experiences were not resolved or processed adequately.”

Purrington pointed out the importance of biology.

“An important area to consider is our individual biological make-up,” Purrington said. “Genetics, hormones and biological systems can impact a person’s stress response, which then impacts how he or she responds to the stressor. It can also impact the extent that he or she interprets various stimuli as threatening or safe, as well as impacting the individual response, coping, etc.”

Although fear is something most try to avoid, Purrington mentioned that there are positives to feeling scared, even beyond the chill many of us crave during the spooky season.

“Fear definitely has an adaptive and proactive function,” Purrington said. “It can help activate our sympathetic nervous system and prepare our body to respond quickly, which is extremely functional when we are faced with dangerous situations.”


Unity in faith over fear

Dr. Jeff Cate, professor of New Testament, shared his thoughts on how Christians with different views on Halloween can still be united in faith.

Q: Share your thoughts on the controversy over Halloween.

The New Testament never directly addresses Halloween because it never was a holiday in those days. But the New Testament did talk about issues that Christians didn’t see eye to eye on.

A good example of that is in 1 Corinthians chapters 8-10. For three chapters, Paul talked about the subject of food that had been sacrificed to idols. Jewish folks would not eat any meat from the marketplace in Greek cities because it had been used in pagan worship. They took seriously ‘you shall have no other gods before me’ and ‘you shall not make an image of God.’ (The meat) was tainted with adultery. They would not buy marketplace food.

In Paul’s churches, like the church in Corinth, you would have Jewish Christians and you would have Gentile Christians. Gentile Christians would grow up buying this food, eating this food, seeing no problem with it. Jewish Christians would say that it was tainted with adultery — that it was sinful. It would be just as wrong as eating pork or other non-kosher food.

Paul says it’s off-limits to go to the pagan temples and be at a banquet. Paul tells the church it’s OK to eat food from the marketplace.

The interesting thing about that is Paul was rather progressive and liberal in that regard. Other Jewish Christians were not that way. James, the brother of Jesus — the leader of the church in Jerusalem —actually speaks against it: Abstain from things polluted from idols. Abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols.

Paul didn’t see eye to eye with James on this cultural issue.

James saw it as wrong and sinful. Paul saw it as not really a big deal. It’s kind of like Halloween where some people see it as very evil, wrong and sinful. But others are like, “It really isn’t. It really isn’t a celebration of evil. It’s giving candy and having friends and dressing up.” The problem is that not everybody agrees what are the essentials and what are the nonessentials.

In my own personal opinion, participating in Halloween is not a big deal. I actually find it great. Halloween is the one night of the year where everyone gets out and socializes.

Q: Why do you think a portion of Christians shy away from Halloween?

Some people might say we should avoid the appearance of evil, so anything that even looks wrong, dark or evil we should avoid. But where do you draw the line? Different people draw the line at different places. That’s where I come back to the saying that in nonessentials we should have freedom, but in all things we should be loving and caring.

Q: What does the Bible say about ghosts being real?

The Old King James version used the word ghost for spirit. So they would talk about the Holy Ghost. We would translate that as the Holy Spirit. It’s the same word in Greek — spirit or ghost. We don’t usually use the word ghost because we think of Casper and those kinds of things. The New Testament does talk about spirits and even evil spirits that Jesus cast out of people.

Q: Do you think it’s valid to be afraid of that? Is there a concern at all?

Different people have different views. Some people see it as an innocent thing that’s mostly for children —a chance to dress up, get candy and socialize. But others think we shouldn’t do that. A lot of churches instead offer Harvest Festivals.

Q: What would you want students to take away from this in terms of the compatibility of Christianity and Halloween?

I would go back to that statement that In the essentials we should have unity and the essentials of our faith is Jesus Christ as Lord. We should be respectful of each other. If someone thinks differently, respect them. That was a problem in Paul’s churches. The Jewish Christians would look down on the Gentile Christians as if they weren’t as committed to Christ because they were willing to eat the marketplace food. Jewish Christians would think they were better than that, and Paul is trying to say no — we’re all one and the same.

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