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Sci-Q: San Diego Experts Explore Science Of Fear

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What scares you? Experts say there is a reason that it is often both disturbing and delightful to be scared silly.

Some people really enjoy being scared said Vickie Risbrough, associate director of neuroscience for the Center of Excellence for Stress and Mental Health at VA San Diego Healthcare System.

"That’s because a lot of the same systems that are activated in terms of hormones and brain circuit systems — they’re also activated during times of extreme excitement," said Risbrough who is also an associate professor in psychiatry at UC San Diego's School of Medicine.

Risbrough said a number of feelings can happen in your body when it’s faced with fear.

“We have a rush of hormones,” Risbrough told KPBS Midday Edition on Tuesday. “We have immediate dumps of adrenaline into our system. We also become very vigilant in terms of scanning our environment.”

For people who enjoy being scared, Risbrough compared the feeling to a runner’s high.

“A lot of people enjoy that intense feeling as long as it’s a safe context,” Risbrough said. “You can enjoy those physiological responses.”

But for some, fears can paralyze their day-to-day living.

Mark Wiederhold, president of the Virtual Reality Medical Center, which treats panic and anxiety disorders, said phobias can develop in different ways.

“It can occur out of nowhere,” Wiederhold said.

Wiederhold said some phobias can be genetic. He used an example of sisters who were both scared of going into the water. Others can develop a phobia like a fear of flying because of one bad experience.

But in Wiederhold’s experience, it’s the fear of public speaking that’s most prominent among people.

“People are more afraid of speech than death,” Wiederhold said.

Sci-Q is a monthly series on Midday Edition, and KPBS listeners are invited to join in on the fun. If you have a scientific topic you'd like to explore or a question you want answered, contact us on Twitter @KPBSMidday using the hashtag #Sci-Q.

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