The Jeff Wise Blog

The Scary Science of Halloween Haunting

To quote Glee‘s Sue Sylvester: “It’s time to get back to the real meaning of Halloween. Fear.”

This is the time of year when all of us — rich and poor, young and old, living and undead — can put aside our differences and celebrate the sheer joy of having the wits scared out of us. Most of the time, we do our best to avoid fear, so it’s nice that once a year society can acknowledge the pleasure of terror. Of course, for the scientifically minded, this inevitably raises the question: just how scary is scary?

Two years ago, Michigan cardiologist Nathan Foster decided to find out. Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Recreation

The Nervous Breakdown: A Myth?

When I was a junior in high school my Spanish teacher started behaving very strangely. She became increasingly agitated and defensive, and the class, sensing her emotional frailty, responded as a pack of rabid adolescents predictably would: we relentlessly back-talked and baited her, which I’m sure did nothing to ease her predicament.

It all came to a head one day when she passed around a blank sheet of paper and asked that we sign it, to show that we had attended the class. Later, another faculty member asked me if I would share my thoughts on the petition we had signed. “What petition?” I answered. Apparently, she had attached our signatures to a piece of paper that said something to the effect of, “We, the undersigned, hereby state our unequivocal support and appreciation for our beloved teacher…”

She was promptly fired, and we never saw her again. Asked what had happened, we were told simply: “She had a nervous breakdown.”

Nervous breakdown. We all know what it means, in a vague sort of way: one day you’re more or less fine, then the pressure gets too much, and then, boom, off the rails. We all know someone who’s had one, or had one ourselves. But what does the phenomenon correlate to in modern psychological terminology? Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Psychology

I’m Having One of Those Days

I’m not actually having one of those days, but what else to do with the best animated gif ever?

Filed under: Animal attack

How Psychopaths Choose Their Victims

Recently my journalistic career brought me in contact with a man who, when I first met him, seemed to be the very embodiment of a charming and well-heeled gentleman. He is a natural raconteur, good-looking, athletic, intellectually curious, financially successful, and wittily self-deprecating. What few people know about him is that he has left behind a trail of emotional destruction, having spent decades abusing vulnerable individuals for his own twisted purposes.

Psychopaths, or sociopaths as some prefer to call them, are well known figures in our culture. We’re fascinated by their predatory relationship with the rest of humanity. Their chilling alien-ness makes them convenient villains in books, film, and television. When we encounter them in real life, we think: There really are monsters roaming the world. But as my own recent experience has taught me, the crimes of the psychopath are not merely a function of the perpetrator. We are not all equally likely to fall prey. Just as the psychopaths are a special breed, so too are their victims. Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Threats

The Women Most Likely to Be Stalked

A career as a female TV news anchor isn’t all glamor. Away from the glare of the studio lights, the job is plagued by a little-known but particularly unpleasant occupational hazard: stalkers. In newsrooms across the country, the problem is endemic. “Everyone has a crazy guy,” says broadcaster Amy Jacobson. “It’s expected.”

Though no statistics exist on the scope of the problem, experts who study stalking confirm that female anchors and reporters can expect to be targeted sooner or later. “One in eight American women will get stalked in her lifetime,” says stalking consultant Dr. Park Dietz. “But for a female news readers, it’s virtually a certainty. At any given time, she might be stalked by several at once and not even know about it.” Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Threats

Who’ll Be the Alpha Male? Ask the Hormones

Any time two or more people come together, one of them automatically and subconsciously establishes dominance. That’s the reality of being a mammal. We’re social creatures; a place in the hierarchy is a matter of life and death. We need allies to protect us, to fight with us, to groom us and help us bear and raise children. So our brains contain circuitry that automatically find a place for us in the social structure. Some dominate, others submit.

But how do our brains decide who will come out on top? Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Social Fear

Interviews with the Author

Thinking About Fear & the Brain

If I find myself in a severe crisis, will I be able to keep it together? How can I control anxiety and panic? Is it possible to lead a life less bounded by fear? These are the sorts of questions that I'll be exploring in this blog, an offshoot of my book, Extreme Fear: The Science of Your Mind in Danger, published on December 8, 2009 by Palgrave Macmillan.

Video Introduction

Also by Jeff Wise