n South African Journal of Psychiatry - The functional neuro-anatomy of the human response to fear : a brief review

Volume 17, Issue 1
  • ISSN : 1608-9685
  • E-ISSN: 2078-6786



Fear perception and subsequent appropriate behavioural response are crucial for the adaptation of species. During the past few decades functional neuro-imaging studies in humans exploring the neural basis of fear have contributed significantly to the understanding of its mechanisms. Imaging studies help to clarify the role of the amygdala-based neurocircuitry in fear activation. The aim of this paper is briefly to review the most recent functional neuro-imaging studies on fear perception, modulation and learning. Important knowledge has been acquired about the factors that set fear in motion, including the role of nonconscious processes and how fear drives attention. A subcortical network interacts with the prefrontal cortex to modulate emotional responses that allow better coping with environmental and social demands. Fear learning reduces the need to relearn about dangerous stimuli. Flexible processes allow fear behaviour to be readjusted when circumstances change. Future improvement of functional and other neuro-imaging techniques may better clarify the role of the neurocircuitry involved in fear perception, learning and modulation.

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