Phobias and preparedness: The selective, automatic, and encapsulated nature of fear

Susan Mineka*, Arne Öhman

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

312 Scopus citations


We describe evidence for an evolved module for fear elicitation and fear learning with four primary characteristics. First, it is preferentially activated by stimuli related to survival threats in evolutionary history. Thus, fear-relevant stimuli lead to superior conditioning of aversive associations compared with fear-irrelevant stimuli. Second, the module is automatically activated by fear-relevant stimuli, meaning that fear activation occurs before conscious cognitive analysis of the stimulus can occur. Third, the fear module is relatively impenetrable to conscious cognitive control, and fear conditioning with fear-relevant stimuli can occur even with subliminal conditioned stimuli. Fourth, the amygdala seems to be the central brain area dedicated to the fear module. Finally, we propose that there are two levels of fear conditioning, with an emotional level that is relatively independent of the cognitive contingency level, each mediated by different brain areas.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)927-937
Number of pages11
JournalBiological psychiatry
Issue number10
StatePublished - Nov 15 2002


  • Automatic fear activation
  • Fear module
  • Nonconscious learning
  • Phobias
  • Preparedness
  • Selective associations

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biological Psychiatry


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