Fear is an emotion that has powerful effects on behaviour and physiology across animal species. It is accepted that the amygdala has a central role in processing fear. However, it is less widely appreciated that distinct amygdala outputs and downstream circuits are involved in different types of fear. Data show that fear of painful stimuli, predators and aggressive members of the same species are processed in independent neural circuits that involve the amygdala and downstream hypothalamic and brainstem circuits. Here, we discuss data supporting multiple fear pathways and the implications of this distributed system for understanding and treating fear.