§ 6. Analysis of Fear. — To describe and analyse all the various kinds of emotion would be an endless task. We therefore select for special treatment two typical forms, — fear and anger. We shall have occasion to deal with some other modes of emotional experience at a later stage, when we come to treat of ideational as distinguished from perceptual activity.
In fear, as in all painful feeling, cognitive tendency is at once excited and obstructed. But the conation must be of a special kind. It must be a tendency to practical adjustment more or less imperatively demanded by a practical emergency of a serious nature. Thus the conditions which cause fear must be aggressive or otherwise obtrusive in their character. The occasion of fear must not come before consciousness as something that can be avoided or evaded with ease and certainty.
The experience must invade consciousness in a more or less violent and persistent way so as to call imperatively for a practical adjustment to the situation. At the same time it must be of a nature to destroy efficiency, — to disorganise and disable the activity which it excites. It may seem from this account of the matter that fear is always disadvantageous, and that it can be nothing but a drawback in the struggle for existence. This inference is partially true. Fright often serves the predatory animal rather than the frightened prey. "Many birds, though scarcely wounded by small shot, fall to the ground as though struck by lightning, panting with wide open mouth."* Sealhunters often make use of the paralysing effect of fright in order to secure their prey. But even when terror strikes an animal motionless the result is not always disadvantageous. By becoming quiescent it is more likely to escape notice. Where mental and bodily perturbation are not violent enough to deprive the animal of all power of effective action, it takes to flight or hides itself. So far as these movements of escape or evasion are the direct expression of fear, they are to be explained on the general principle that psychical activity, when its way is barred in certain directions, diverts itself into whatever channel it can find. Thus an animal disabled by fear from more positive and complex modes of adjustment, will have recourse to flight. Now the circumstances may be actually such that flight is the best course or the only course that can be of use.
* Hudson, Naturalist in La Plata, ch. xv.
When this is so, the fear that expresses itself in flight is an advantage. In point of fact when animals run away or hide, it is generally the best thing they can do. But this is not always so. A dog that runs away scared at the noise of a cracker, derives no benefit from so doing. Further, fright is to some extent a disadvantage to an animal even in escaping from an enemy. The excitement of the emotion may indeed accelerate its movements. But at the same time presence of mind is more or less lost. Watchfulness and readiness of resource are diminished. Thus the animal rushes wildly into the danger which it is striving to avoid, or into some other danger of a yet more deadly nature. The game old fox may be but little influenced by fear when in escaping from the hunters it displays its wonderful command of all kinds of cunning resources, its wariness and keenness of perception. WhyteMelville says of such a fox: "His heart like his little body was multum in parvo, tough, tameless, and as strong as brandy." As regards the general question of the utility of fear, we may say that on the whole it is a means of preservation from injury and death. But it is rather a clumsy means, and in part defeats itself, especially when the emotion is very violent. As Mosso remarks: "The graver the peril becomes, the more do the reactions which are positively harmful to the animal prevail in number and in efficacy. . . . We might almost say that nature had not been able to frame a substance which should be excitable enough to compose the brain and spinal marrow, and yet which should not be so excited by exceptional stimulation as to overstep in its reactions those physiological bounds which are useful to the conservation of the creature."*
We may now enumerate the conditions which generate fear.
(a) Actual bodily pain produced by wounds is, when sufficiently intense, accompanied by the same kind of impotent excitement, the same kind of disablement of bodily and mental activity which is characteristic of fright. Wild efforts to escape, laboured breathing, palpitation, trembling, etc., are expressions of actual bodily pain as well as of strong fear. Now we find not only analogy but genetic relation between the two states. When an object which has previously caused pain is again perceived, the emotional tone is one of fear, unless fear is displaced or overpowered by anger. This has suggested to Herbert Spencer the theory that the fear consists in the revival of bygone painful sensations produced by the object feared. "Everyone," he says, "can testify that the psychical state called fear consists of mental representations of painful results." +Against this view we urge that whereas the painful sensations vary greatly in specific quality, the emotion of fear which they generate is substantially identical, and differs more in its character from them than they do from each other; we urge also that the emotion of fear is sometimes more violent and disagreeable than the original experiences of which it is supposed to be a revival, or mental representation.
* La Paura, Appendice, p. 295; quoted and translated by James, Principles of Psychology, vol. ii., pp. 483 484. +Psychology, § 213.
What appears really to happen when a previous experience of pain gives rise on a subsequent occasion to the emotion of fear, may be illustrated as follows. A child, attracted by the brightness of a flame, grasps it and is badly burnt in consequence. Subsequently, on seeing the flame, he feels fear. The emotional tone belongs to the present perception because of the previous painful sensation inflicted by the perceived object. The original painful sensation, when it actually occurred, occurred as part of a perceptual activity which was one and continuous in all its aspects. The painful sensation was not merely superadded to the visual perception of the object as a separate and isolated event, it was an integral phase of the same continuous process. The visual perception and the sensation of burning form part of the perception of one and the same object. The advent of the burning pain must therefore make a profound difference in the character of the perceptual process as a whole, and in the total disposition which the experience as a whole leaves behind it. Hence, when the object is again seen, the mere sight of it, even before previous painful experiences recur, will be a profoundly different state of perceptual consciousness from what it would have been if they had never existed. The motor attitude will be essentially modified. There will be a tendency to retreat from or avoid the flame, instead of grasping it. Further, a state of diffused nervous excitement analogous to that which accompanied the actual burning will be reexcited; and this will overflow the organism as a whole, producing constriction of the superficial bloodvessels, palpitation, trembling, and the like, with the corresponding organic sensations.
(b) That this account of the matter is correct becomes clearer when we consider that fear arises in other ways than through experience of previous pain or injury. The mere suddenness or intensity, or the combined suddenness and intensity, of an impression are sufficient to cause fear. A loud noise for which we are unprepared startles us with momentary alarm. Many people cannot help being scared by a reverberating peal of thunder, though they know that it is harmless. Of course much depends on the nervous organisation or on its state at a given time. It is extremely easy to startle a hare or a rabbit. Even a slight noise will give us a disagreeable shock of alarm if we are halfasleep. In some pathological states the patient is liable to be frightened by almost anything. Fledgelings shrink down in the nest when a strange animal or object suddenly approaches, though they may show no uneasiness when their deadliest enemy approaches them unobtrusively as snakes do. "A piece of paper blown suddenly by the wind is as great an object of terror to a young bird as a buzzard sweeping down with death in its talons."* The sudden approach of an object, the abrupt occurrence of an intense sensation, stimulate to action: there is a demand for practical adjustment to the obtrusive experience. At the same time its very suddenness or intensity disconcert and startle, so that efficient reaction is impossible. This is the more conspicuously so, where the impression is not only sudden but unfamiliar. Mere unfamiliarity or strangeness, apart from suddenness or exceptional intensity, suffice to cause fear even in a violent form. The young gorilla brought home by the members of the Loango expedition much disliked strange noises. "Thunder, the rain falling on the skylight, and especially the longdrawn note of a pipe or trumpet threw him into such agitation as to cause a sudden affection of the digestive organs, and it became expedient to keep him at a distance."* The kind of unfamiliarity which so disturbed the gorilla consisted apparently in mere novelty.
* Hudson, Naturalist in La Plata, eh. v. Psych.
* R. Hartmann, Anthropoid Apes, p. 265; quoted by James, Principles of Psychology, vol. ii., p. 417 (note).
Unfamiliarity may, as I have said, consist in mere novelty. But there is another kind of unfamiliarity which involves not only novelty but direct conflict with ordinary experience. Strangeness of this sort may cause profound alarm. An experience may be so discordant with the normal course of events as to utterly check and disorder the process of conscious life and destroy the possibility of effective adjustment. In the case of human beings the fright caused by a ghostly apparition is a good illustration. This is not so much due to any definite or indefinite anticipation of positive evil as to the utterly abnormal character of the experience. It lies so wholly outside the circle of ordinary events, and is so completely opposed to the conditions of ordinary experience, that it destroys all presence of mind. It stimulates intensely by its strangeness, and at the same time, owing to this very strangeness, all lines of activity, theoretical and practical, are obstructed. It is instructive to contrast this overwhelming terror in the supposed presence of a ghostly apparition with the predominantly agreeable experience of reading or listening to a tale of marvel. The actual fact obtrudes itself as actual, and demands immediate practical adjustment to it, and yet by its very nature makes such adjustment impossible. Where this practical need is not felt, the free play of imagination liberated from the trammels of ordinary experience may be a source of delight.
Animals are capable of analogous experiences. James gives a good example.* A dog belonging to Professor Brooks, the wellknown biologist, was frightened into a sort of epileptic fit by a bone being drawn across the floor by a thread which he did not see. As James remarks, any man's heart would stop beating, if he perceived his chair sliding unassisted across the floor.