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Causes People develop specific fears as a result of learning. This has been studied in psychology as fear conditioning, beginning with John B. Watson's Little Albert experiment in 1920, which was inspired after observing a child with an irrational fear of dogs. In this study, an 11-month-old boy was conditioned to fear a white rat in the laboratory. The fear became generalized to include other white, furry objects, such as a rabbit, dog, and even a ball of cotton.

Fear can be learned by experiencing or watching a frightening traumatic accident. For example, if a child falls into a well and struggles to get out, he or she may develop a fear of wells, heights (acrophobia), enclosed spaces (claustrophobia), or water (aquaphobia). There are studies looking at areas of the brain that are affected in relation to fear. When looking at these areas (such as the amygdala), it was proposed that a person learns to fear regardless of whether they themselves have experienced trauma, or if they have observed the fear in others. In a study completed by Andreas Olsson, Katherine I. Nearing and Elizabeth A. Phelps the amygdala were affected both when subjects observed someone else being submitted to an aversive event, knowing that the same treatment awaited themselves, and when subjects were subsequently placed in a fear-provoking situation.<ref>{{#invoke:Citation/CS1|citation |CitationClass=journal }}</ref> This suggests that fear can develop in both conditions, not just simply from personal history.

Fear is affected by cultural and historical context. For example, in the early 20th century, many Americans feared polio, a disease that cripples the body part it affects, leaving that body part immobilized for the rest of one's life.{{ safesubst:#invoke:Unsubst||date=__DATE__ |$B= {{#invoke:Category handler|main}}{{#invoke:Category handler|main}}[citation needed] }} There are consistent cross-cultural differences in how people respond to fear.{{ safesubst:#invoke:Unsubst||date=__DATE__ |$B= {{#invoke:Category handler|main}}{{#invoke:Category handler|main}}[citation needed] }} Display rules affect how likely people are to show the facial expression of fear and other emotions.

Although many fears are learned, the capacity to fear is part of human nature. Many studies {{ safesubst:#invoke:Unsubst||date=__DATE__ |$B= {{#invoke:Category handler|main}}{{#invoke:Category handler|main}}[citation needed] }} have found that certain fears (e.g. animals, heights) are much more common than others (e.g. flowers, clouds). These fears are also easier to induce in the laboratory. This phenomenon is known as preparedness. Because early humans that were quick to fear dangerous situations were more likely to survive and reproduce, preparedness is theorized to be a genetic effect that is the result of natural selection {{ safesubst:#invoke:Unsubst||date=__DATE__ |$B= {{#invoke:Category handler|main}}{{#invoke:Category handler|main}}[citation needed] }}.

From an evolutionary psychology perspective, different fears may be different adaptations that have been useful in our evolutionary past. They may have developed during different time periods. Some fears, such as fear of heights, may be common to all mammals and developed during the mesozoic period. Other fears, such as fear of snakes, may be common to all simians and developed during the cenozoic time period. Still others, such as fear of mice and insects, may be unique to humans and developed during the paleolithic and neolithic time periods (when mice and insects become important carriers of infectious diseases and harmful for crops and stored foods).<ref>{{#invoke:Citation/CS1|citation |CitationClass=journal }}</ref>

Fear is high only if the observed risk and seriousness both are high, and is low, if risk or seriousness is low.<ref>{{#invoke:Citation/CS1|citation |CitationClass=journal }}</ref>

Fear sections
Intro  Etymology  Types  Causes  Symptoms and signs of fear   Fear in animals   Fears in culture  Overcoming fear  Inability to experience fear  See also  References  Further reading  External links  

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