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Why do we open our eyes when we are afraid?


Fear is manifested through different physiological responses, which can be very different, depending on the person in question. But it is true that others are invariable for the generality of humans: before a sense of fear, our eyes open more than normal.

Willing to get to the bottom of this behavior, researchers from Cornell University (USA) detail, in an article published in 2014 in the journal Psychological Science, the reason why our eyes open when we are afraid and why they narrow or They close when something angers us .


Both facial expressions, opposed to each other, are based on the emotional responses of our  eyes to different situations. When our eyes open more than normal, as when we are afraid or feel that we are in  danger , it responds to  our visual field is enlarged and also our ocular sensitivity ; This change is made by the eyes to identify the danger that surrounds us,  as a defense mechanism .

On the contrary, when our eyes are narrowed, as when we are arguing or angry about something,  our eyes block the light and focus a point  that determines the origin of our  discontent .

Researchers say that  both reactions have arisen from the adaptation to the stimuli of our environment  and not as signals of social communication, which would imply that emotions are what trigger these facial expressions that what they do is take advantage of the useful properties of the light depending on the situation. Thus, emotions “configure” what we see before the visual coding by the brain occurs  .


The chemistry of fear

Fear is a natural response of the body that manifests itself through different physiological reactions, which can vary between people: sweating , agitated pulse, feeling of anguish …

In a situation that we qualify as dangerous for our integrity (physical or psychological), a series of responses related to flight or protection are activated in the body. That is the reason why some people, instead of activating when they are afraid, are paralyzed.

The bodily and emotional reactions that fear causes are triggered by adrenaline , a chemical that the brain releases to obtain, as we say, a favorable escape, protection or attack to keep our life and integrity intact. To do this, activate the body and limbs. For example, the heart beats faster to drain more blood to legs and arms, about to run or attack.


While fear can be uncomfortable for many, for others this strong feeling is a source of pleasure. That’s why there are so many fans  of horror movies  and other experiences that force you to spend moments of a great adrenaline rush.

However, the usual thing is that fear generates anguish, and for some people it can be an impediment to the development of a normal life. Phobias, for example, are the manifestation of an irrational fear of something or someone, although these, in fact, do not pose such a danger.

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