The functional neuro-anatomy of the human response to fear: A brief review

A Del Casale, S Ferracuti, G D Kotzalidis, C Rapinesi, D Serata, E Ambrosi, A Simonetti, V Savoja, M Pompili, G Angeletti, R Tatarelli, P Girardi


The perception of fear and subsequent appropriate behavioral responding are crucial for the adaptation of species to their living environment. Functional neuroimaging studies of the neural basis of fear during the last few decades in humans contributed to significant advancement in the understanding of its mechanisms. Imaging studies help us delineating the role of amygdala-based neurocircuitry in fear activation and attention capture. The aim of this paper was to briefly review the most recent functional neuroimaging studies of fear perception, modulation and learning. Important knowledge was acquired about the factors that set fear in motion, including the role of nonconscious processes and the character of fear in guiding attention. A subcortical network interacts with the prefrontal cortex to modulate emotional response that allows better coping with environmental and social circumstances. Fear learning reduces the need to relearn about danger, and flexibility processes readjust fear behavior when external circumstances change. Future improvement of functional and other neuroimaging techniques may promote better clarification of the neurocircuitry involved in fear perception, learning and modulation.


Human Fear; Functional Neuroimaging; Amygdala; Prefrontal Cortex; Fear Learning

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Submitted: 03 September 2010
Published: 01 March 2011

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South African Journal of Psychiatry    |    ISSN: 1608-9685 (PRINT)    |    ISSN: 2078-6786 (ONLINE)