Chapter 8: Fear, Anxiety, and Stress

Defining Anxiety and Comparing Anxiety to Fear

Let’s turn now to anxiety.  Remember, the learning objectives for the anxiety section are:
  • Does anxiety meet the requirements for an emotion?  Why or why not?
  • What is the relationship between anxiety and attentional biases?
  • How are fear and anxiety similar? different?
  • How does the research on anxiety help us to better understand psychological disorders?
Table 8 below shows the differences in the emotion components for anxiety and fear. One major difference between fear and anxiety is the timing of the eliciting event. Fear is called post-stimulus because the eliciting event occurs first, followed by the emotion. Anxiety is called pre-stimulus because anxiety occurs before the eliciting event. Further, anxiety may or may not even have a clear eliciting event – such as when people experience generalized anxiety. Another difference are the physiological changes – fear results in SNS activation and PNS deactivation, whereas anxiety activated both the SNS and PNS system. For example, during anxiety people report an increase in heart rate (SNS system), but also feeling the need to urinate (PNS system).

Table 8
Emotion Components for Fear and Anxiety

A table comparing different components for fear and anxiety
Component Fear Anxiety
Eliciting Event Required? Yes!
Cognitive Appraisals “Something bad now, very soon”

More Controllable,
Unexpected, Can Cope,
Close in Time.

“Something bad in the future”

Less controllable, Expected, Can’t Cope,
Far in Time

Physiology SNS Activation
PNS Deactiation
SNS Activation
PNS actiation
Behavior Flee, desire to escape Limited responses, dont know
how to cope
Subjective Feelings Unpleasant, highly
Unpleasant highly arousing,


Perspectives of Emotion

In general, most emotion researchers believe anxiety is not a fleeting emotion. Basic emotions researchers such as Ekman further state anxiety does not meet the requirements for a basic emotion – particularly because universal facial expressions do not exist. Social constructivists point out the cultural differences in eliciting events, symptoms, and cognitive appraisals of panic attacks, an anxiety disorder (Lewis-Fernández et al., 2010). Table 9 shows eliciting events across world regions and their corresponding term in that culture’s language. Western cultures view anxiety as caused by unexpected events, whereas other cultures view anxiety as caused by expected events (such as standing up or the weather).


A table showing different regions and countries, as well as the cause of panic attacks for that region and the cultural term for said panic attack
World Region or Country Cause of Panic Attacks Cultural Term
Latin America Interpersonal arguments and Major Life Changes ataque de nervios
Cambodia Standing up and Atmospheric Wind khyâl (atmospheric wind causing dizziness, tinnitus, neck soreness)
Vietnam Atmospheric Wind that causes headaches trung gió
Japan and South Korea Fear of offending someone else
due to own psychological/physical
character flaws (e.g., staring too
long, body odor) or showing
wrong facial expression
Taijin kyofusho (TKS; Japanese for fear of interpersonal rejection)
United States Major Life Changes


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