The distinction and interaction between fear and anxiety

Adapting defensive behavior to the characteristics of a threatening situation is a fundamental function of the brain. Particularly, threat imminence plays a major role for the organization of defensive responses. Acute threat prompts phasic physiological responses, which are usually associated with an intense feeling of fear. In contrast, diffuse and potentially threatening situations elicit a sustained state of anxious apprehension. Fear and anxiety are well-established separable emotional states. In this project, we try to elucidate the factors that delineate the boundaries between fear and anxiety. We mainly work with aversive cue and context conditioning paradigms to model aspects of acute and potential threat in the laboratory and to experimentally induce fear and anxiety.

Moreover, fear-eliciting acute danger can be encountered during situations of potential threat or during neutral situations, prompting the question if fear and anxiety are mutually exclusive. If not, what are the mechanisms that characterize their interaction? To test potential interactions of fear and anxiety, we try to develop paradigms that offer new perspectives on healthy and pathological forms of defensive mechanisms.

Yannik Stegmann
Scientific Researcher

My research interests include fear, anxiety and anxiety disorders, as well as how aversive learning shapes perception.


Investigating sustained attention in contextual threat using steady-state VEPs evoked by flickering video stimuli

Anxiety is characterized by anxious anticipation and heightened vigilance to uncertain threat. However, if threat is not reliably …

The effect of inherently threatening contexts on visuocortical engagement to conditioned threat

Fear and anxiety are crucial for adaptive responding in life-threatening situations. Whereas fear is a phasic response to an acute …

The effect of trait anxiety on attentional mechanisms in combined context and cue conditioning and extinction learning

In this study we compared steady-state visual evoked potentials during the NPU-threat task between high and low anxious individuals. …