Panic. Fear. What is that one thing that makes your heart race and your palms sweat? What makes you sick to your stomach to think about? Why do we have certain fears and what are the origins of them?

The origin of fear is a defence mechanism against danger. A feeling your body develops in order to warn you. It is merely a survival instinct. As humankind has developed we have initially use the same approach regarding fear. This is the fight or flight response. But why is it that we feel fear when there is no need for fight or flight? Why do we, as a modern generation of humans, still feel fear even when science proves our fear is irrational?

Particular fears are usually fuelled by personal experiences or childhood memories; however, others are hard cored into our DNA to protect us. An evolutionary advantage we have developed. Take fear of insects as an example, most people shiver at the thought of ‘creepy crawlies’. Their initial instinct is the flight response. This has developed from when humans lived in conditions where if you got bitten by an insect, it was likely that you could have been poisoned. The thought that insects are life threatening is why some people can’t think of anything worse than having one crawl up their arm. Therefore, the initial instinct of fear still remains when we see one.

Surveys have shown that the UK’s top 10 fears are: public speaking, deep water, spiders, heights, confined spaces, needles, clowns, flying, blood, and lastly snakes. These fears all originate from evolutionary advantages, excluding fear of public speaking and fear of clowns.

The fear of public speaking is closely associated with fear of humiliation and fear of judgement. We experience this fear more often in todays society as new developing technology makes us more targetable and vulnerable. This is why the fear of public speaking is so high. People are scared of doing or saying something wrong.

Fear of clowns however originates from the uncertainty of a clowns painted on permanent smile. We find the fact that they appear to only express one extreme emotion unpredictable and creepy. Freuds’ uncanny theory also explains our fear. It is the theory that we are frightened by something that is familiar yet unfamiliar at the same time. Something that is human but not quite human. This is why clowns are a common well-known fear among people, especially children.

From this we can gather, human beings have two types of fear: innate fear and learned fear. An example of innate fear would be fear of heights. Innate fear is a normal part of our survival instinct. Learned fear is developed by experience or association. It’s about context and situation. For example getting attacked by a dog when you are child and consequently having a fear of dogs for the rest of your life. Traumatic experiences can lead to our future fears.

There is always a reason for fear. An origin or experience. Fear is a part of us that is difficult to alter and we have adapted to live with it throughout time.