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Neurobehavioral perspectives on the distinction between fear and anxiety.


In this review, we discuss the usefulness of the distinction between fear and anxiety. The clinical use of the labels is ambiguous, often defining one in terms of the other. We first consider what a useful, objective, and scientifically valid definition would entail and then evaluate several fear/anxiety distinctions that have been made in the neurobiological literature. A strong distinction should specify the difference in conditions that lead to fear versus anxiety. Additionally, fear and anxiety should generate distinct sets of behaviors. Ideally, the two states should be supported by distinguishable neuroanatomical circuits. Such a conceptualization would be consistent with the National Institute of Mental Health's Research Domain Criteria (RDoc). The majority of neurobiological approaches to the fear versus anxiety distinction fail to differentiate the two states in terms of behavior, often using the exact same behavioral measures as indicators. Of the two that do, only Predatory Imminence Theory provides a distinction both in terms of cause and effect. Indeed, that approach provides a ready distinction of anxiety, fear, and panic in terms of both antecedent conditions and response selection rules. Additionally, it appeals to distinct neural circuits to generate these modes of action.