Fear and its effect on humans has become a subject of increased interest since the 2001
terrorist attack on the World Trade Center and numerous natural disasters that have occurred in
the United States and abroad. The causes of fear can have short-term and long-term negative
effects and consequences not only for individual people, but also for society as a whole. In order
to understand the emotional implications of natural and more specifically, man made disaster on
society, we must first examine the nature of fear; what it is, what causes it, and ways in which it
can be used for personal and political gain. If a society that is plagued by threats of terrorism is
to live without constant anxiety and fear, we must shift our focus from merely alerting people of
impending disaster to understanding the impact on individuals and groups of fear caused by such
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information in a way that will work to eliminate, or at least reduce fear. Fear has an price and
everyone is a Customer.
Fear and Everyone is a Customer to "Terrorism"
What is Fear? Fear can be described as an emotional condition that is the result of a physical threat and is most often associated with the anticipation of pain, avoidance and escape. It is thought to be the most misunderstood emotion that people face. Fear is a stand-alone or simplex emotion that may cause more than one response, but contains no other emotions in and of them. For example, jealousy and guilt are known as puzzling emotions that contain elements of fear. Jealousy may be fear of losing a partner and guilt may be associated with the fear of punishment. Fear is an emotion that will cause numerous physical responses from the body. When experiencing fear, nonessential systems within the body start shutting down and essential actions take place that allow one to react to their surroundings in an appropriate manner. An increased amount of adrenaline is produced resulting in blood being diverted to large muscle groups and away from the skin providing increased capacity to react to fight or flight. The heart beats harder and faster as blood pressure is raised allowing for increased blood flow, the pupils dilate to increase perception and time seems to slow that raises the level of awareness of the immediate surroundings.
According to Dozier, the human brain consists of three systems that allow humans to
process fear: 1) the primitive system (emotion), 2) the rational system, (reason) and 3) the
conscious system (mediator) (Dozier, 1998). The primitive system is triggered as an immediate
impression to every experience and produces a reaction. It is within this system that the body
physically reacts to a perceived threat. Within a fraction of a second, this system processes
information and determines whether a fight or flight reaction is necessary. The rational system
further analyzes information produced by the primitive system and allows the brain to determine
what other options are available to react to the fear.
The conscious is the tool that analyzes the options produced by the rational
system and allows the brain to determine what actions to take by producing ideas consisting
of physical behavior and rational thought. It intercede between the primitive and rational
systems whose purpose is to get rid of the primitive system and make a rational choice that will
best counter the unknown threat. The primitive system is the ruling system and isn't always
easily to get rid of. Cases in which the primitive system or rational system cannot do away with;
move into the phobia or irrational fear category. A fear of spiders, regardless of the
circumstances in which they are met are a symptom of the primitive fear system than cannot be
The conscious is also a learning mechanism that enables humans to avoid or lessen
perceived threats through repetition. In a phenomenon known as habituation, a fear is reduced
through repeated exposure. During World War II, citizens that resided in cities were less
concerned about attacks and able to resume normal daily activities than those that lived in the
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country and experienced fewer attacks. Habituation is event specific and occurs with repeated
exposure to a traumatic event under otherwise stable conditions; thus, "the event can be
anticipated on the basis of the context in which it occurs" (Bongar et al, 2007). The inability to
habituate can cause emotional distress from living in constant fear and may lead to the
development of health problems.
Sensitization is a product of the primitive fear system and can be described as a condition that
increases excitability or fear through exposure to a threatening condition or situation. While
habituation lowers the threshold of fear, sensitization raises the threshold. Repeated exposure to
traumatic events that cause a higher level of alertness or fear result in sensitization. An example
of sensitization might be someone who has been repeatedly exposed to an event that triggers a
fearful responses based on sight, sound, or smell even if no threat actually exists.
The three systems are normally present in all humans individually. However, fear among
groups of people, sometimes quite large is an increasing concern when faced with natural or
man-made disasters. Fear experienced as a group is contagious and may lead to mass panic
because when confronted with danger, a group of frightened individuals may lead to a mob that
vacates human behavior and resorts to an instinctive animal behavior (Bourke, 2005). During the
1903 fire of the Iroquois Theatre in Chicago, more than 602 people died because of mass panic
The Disasters such as the Iroquois Theater Fire had an interesting effect on citizens. They
developed a new fear set that went beyond the punishment of God for not living a wholesome
life. They were now exposed to conditions that prompted fear as a result of architecture,
engineering and as research has indicated, mismanagement of crowds. In response to this new
dilemma, the engineering industry shifted from reacting to disasters to preventing them through
the use of measures developed by science and technology such as sprinkler systems, dim lights
placed along exit routes and strategically placed entrances and exits. They regarded panic as
inevitable (and therefore impossible to prevent) when people confronted danger, but were
convinced that it was feasible to reduce the catastrophic effects of a mass panic (Bourke, 2005).
Public safety and security continued to be of paramount importance, however, the U.S.
Government did not play a role until 1957 when a government report stated that "the United
States would soon be surpassed in all categories of nuclear weaponry and that civil defense
preparations in the U.S.S.R. were well ahead of American efforts". Up until this point, only the
President, his Cabinet, Supreme Court Justices and U.S. Congressmen had adequate shelter in
the event of a crisis on U.S. soil. By the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis, existing shelters could
only house about 60 million people or approximately a third of the population. Later, federal
authorities decided to lower the standard for what constituted adequate shelter from the effects of
radiation. Although this doubled the amount of protection for the general population, the
measure was, in effect, a mere "sleight of hand maneuver" that obviously did little for people
safety (George, 2003).
Today, it can be assumed that fear as a result of a terrorist threat is of great interest and a
growing problem. It is also a well known fact that one of the main goals of violent acts of
terrorism is to cause public fear rather than produce casualties. Fear because of terrorism can
be broken down into two types: 1) rational fear and 2) irrational anxiety. The Gerard Group
International (GGI), an intelligence based company concludes that the rational fear is one in
which people recognize that the danger is real and develop proactive resolutions to counter the
threat. It is a constructive reaction to a real and present danger. The process of understanding the
nature of threat and taking proactive steps towards definitive solutions creates an environment in
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which security can be significantly enhanced and continuity of life and 'business as usual' can
prevail (GGI, n.d.). GGI defines the irrational anxiety not as a fear, but an anxiety brought about
by media hype, false alarms, and other events that result in confusion and denial. This kind of
fear is debilitating and counter-productive in every environment. It increases a sense of
insecurity and interferes with production and efficiency. Intense anxiety cannot be sustained for
extended periods. It is soon replaced either by on-going background stress or by denial
in addition, complacency that enable us to ignore the real danger (GGI, n.d.).
There is something to be said for the argument that the threat of terrorism is overrated.
Studies have indicated that when put into context, the actual chances of becoming a victim of a
terrorist attacks are quite small. This argument is based on the overall limited destructiveness of
terrorism. When comparing the number of Americans that have been killed in terrorist incidents
with other causes of death, since 1960 the total number of people worldwide who died at the
hands of international terrorists is not much more than the number who drown in bathtubs in the
United States. The term terrorism is often used out of context thus creating an irrational fear.
George W. Bush's continual reference to what is going on in Iraq as "terror" or as "terrorism,"
has been questioned because that conflict is more properly, and commonly, labeled an
insurgency. Insurgents and guerrilla combatants usually rely on the hit-and-run tactics employed
by the terrorist, and the difference is not in the method, but in the frequency with which it is
employed (Mueller, 2007).
One of the more obvious fear concerning terrorism is the use of nuclear weapons, and
some feel that this threat is overrated. Although terrorist organizations such as Al-Qaeda have
expressed a strong interest in the use of nuclear weapons, the probability of producing a weapon
capable of mass destruction is slim. Terrorist organizations lack the technology to produce
an effective nuclear weapon. Even if they could acquire enough nuclear material to fabricate a
dirty bomb, it would more than likely not be a weapons grade which would greatly reduce the
casualty producing effect. However, what it would do is produce fear that is more public by
validating the terrorist threat. The problem becomes not the terrorist attack itself, but the fear
caused by not knowing when or where an attack will occur. Research has shown that the fearful
reaction to a terrorist attack may also indirectly produce casualties. For example, the 2001
World Trade Center attack resulted in a large number of people avoiding airline travel. Myers
states that if we now fly 20 percent less and instead of driving half those miles, we will
spend 2 percent more time in motor vehicles, which according to studies, is more deadly than
flying (Myers, 2001)
Many believe that the government is responsible for not only for taking inappropriate steps to
reduce what are unwarranted fears but also in using fear to its advantage. In fact, the government
has been accused of using the threat of terrorism for political reasons such as support for national
policy that enacts laws designed to combat terrorism that result in the voluntary forfeiture of
freedoms, are expensive, and may not be as effective as advertised. Former President George W.
Bush received a significant rating increase in September 2001 because of his stance on
terrorism. In response, The War on Terror was used as a part of his election campaign, was
critical in his re-election and further used in later congressional campaigns. Politicians attempt to
gain votes by using the terrorist threat as a platform to highlight their efforts at combating
terrorism. It has also been noted that a shift in the Department of Homeland Security Alert
System usually causes higher presidential approval ratings and was abused by former Homeland
Security Secretary Tom Ridge in 2004, an election year.
Fear from terrorism is likely to be a part of American society for years to come. Since fear is
inherent with violent attacks on civilians, eliminating it is near impossible. It can be however, be
controlled if appropriate measures based on accurate research are put into place and the
exploitation for personal or political gain is stopped. Since neither is likely to happen in the
foreseeable future, terrorist organizations will maintain the upper hand in achieving their goal of
inducing fear. With this introduction of Fear, we are all Customers' and has very high price.