Lionel Lee


Over the last few decades, research in affective neuroscience has led to considerable insights into the biology of fear and anxiety. For those in the practice of psychotherapy, these advances hold the potential for explaining the evolutionary utility of these emotions and targeting psychotherapeutic interventions to neurobiological correlates when these emotions go awry. The conversation of neuroscience, however, has yet to find a comfortable place in the therapy room. Translational and conceptual disparities owing to the historical split between psychology and neuroscience, continue to present challenges to their integration. The present study seeks to reframe clinicians’ understanding of the biological underpinnings of fear and anxiety from a static model governed by genetic predisposition and chemical imbalances, to a dynamic process that focuses on the environment’s impact on biology. The following topics will be addressed: What are the neurobiological processes of fear and anxiety? Why did they evolve to serve adaptive purposes? What are the conditions in which disorders of anxiety and fear emerge? To answer these questions, this review of the literature discusses how fear and anxiety centers in the mammalian brain were shaped through phylogenetic development to respond to physical and interpersonal threat, and how fear and anxiety continue to benefit in learning and defensive action. An updated view of the neuroscience of fear and anxiety is also reviewed detailing the functions of known structures and involved pathways. Risk factors for panic and anxiety disorders, the neurological impacts of failure of coping with fear and anxiety are explored, and the application of psychotherapy are discussed. These findings will be applied towards a concise handbook on the neuroscience of fear and anxiety to provide a narrative of an adaptive model for use in the therapy room.

Library of Congress Subject Headings

Dissertations (PsyD) -- Psychology; Neuropsychology; Fear; Anxiety

Date of Award


School Affiliation

Graduate School of Education and Psychology



Degree Type


Degree Name


Faculty Advisor

Cozolino, Louis;