Memory and Fear

As I write this, I have a Halloween soundtrack playing behind me. It does a great job of setting the mood. Every now and then, it will get to a screaming child sequence from a long ago movie. I know rationally what this is, yet it triggers something in me and I find myself anxious and creeped out just a bit.

For most of the month, I’ve been planning to write on memory and fear to celebrate Halloween with you. When I started the research, I was quite surprised on how deep this goes. I was considering where fears might be stored. Yet, I hadn’t given any thought to PTSD, depresssion, or how memory factors into conditioned responses.

I want to share some very helpful links. The articles and websites I’ve decided to include in this post range from the easy to absorb (my speed) to the more technical (many of the rest of you.) They discuss how fear works, experiments that deal with Pavlovian fear response,  the locations fear memories are stored in the brain, what happens to them as they are accessed over time, and how they can potentially be deleted

Most of the links (both listed and in the text itself) also lead to other fantastic articles on the subjects.

The Brain The Primitive, Complicated, Essential Emotion Called Fear; Are you a man or a mouse? No matter how you answer, you experience fear the same way in your brain

Protein degradation and fear memory

A stable sparse fear memory trace in human amygdala.

Selective Erasure of a Fear Memory 

Clearance of fear memory from the hippocampus through neurogenesis by omega-3 fatty acids: a novel preventive strategy for posttraumatic stress disorder?

Regulatory Mechanisms of Fear Extinction and Depression-Like Behavior 

Regulating the formation of fear extinction memory

Since this is Science In My Fiction, today is Halloween, and tomorrow begins NANOWRIMO, I thought I would discuss how fear might apply to your writing and might have been considered when the works you read were created.

The science lends itself to stories regarding behavior manipulation, personality augmentation, medical intervention and other things. Have you seen any of these topics  in the science fiction you’ve read?

I was thinking this morning more along the lines of response. When I see creepy trees on the covers of books or movie packaging, I remember the sound of the wind in the trees. I remember the rustling of the leaves and the sound the trunks and limbs make as they sway. I am more easily convinced to check out what the story is about which leads me to further investment. Creators must think about cues such as this when they are creating their works of fiction and art.

We are conditioned to be wary of our surroundings and the things we cannot see. Imagine you are walking along, and you can hear footsteps or a twig snapping. Those unexplained, unaccounted for sounds spark a fight or flight response in us that comes from the core. As creators, we can use things like that to build a sense of dread or create anxiety in your reader. You want the reader or viewer to be invested in the story. The more aware you are of what scares us and why, the better you will be at getting that across and hooking your audience. Tell me, what do you do to ratchet up audience fear as your story unfolds?

Happy Halloween and have a wonderous Samhain.

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