Fear and anxiety: animal models and human cognitive psychophysiology

J Affect Disord. 2000 Dec;61(3):137-59. doi: 10.1016/s0165-0327(00)00343-8.


The aim of this paper is to explicate what is special about emotional information processing, emphasizing the neural foundations that underlie the experience and expression of fear. A functional, anatomical model of defense behavior in animals is presented and applications are described in cognitive and physiological studies of human affect. It is proposed that unpleasant emotions depend on the activation of an evolutionarily primitive subcortical circuit, including the amygdala and the neural structures to which it projects. This motivational system mediates specific autonomic (e.g., heart rate change) and somatic reflexes (e.g., startle change) that originally promoted survival in dangerous conditions. These same response patterns are illustrated in humans, as they process objective, memorial, and media stimuli. Furthermore, it is shown how variations in the neural circuit and its outputs may separately characterize cue-specific fear (as in specific phobia) and more generalized anxiety. Finally, again emphasizing links between the animal and human data, we focus on special, attentional features of emotional processing: The automaticity of fear reactions, hyper-reactivity to minimal threat-cues, and evidence that the physiological responses in fear may be independent of slower, language-based appraisal processes.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anxiety Disorders / physiopathology*
  • Arousal / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping
  • Disease Models, Animal*
  • Fear / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Motivation
  • Nerve Net / physiopathology
  • Psychophysiology
  • Reflex, Startle / physiology