Before Samuel L. Jackson battled snakes on a plane and before Indiana Jones infamously muttered “I hate snakes,” there was my Mom, who was terrified of them. Growing up on a small midwestern farm, Mom often helped with the spring plowing. She would carry a hoe with her on the tractor just in case she plowed up a nest of snakes. Then she could quickly jump off and chop them up! And we never got through the strawberry-picking season without the shout to “Get the hoe!” because she’d seen some hapless garter snake among the leaves. You’d think that as a farmer she would have understood their importance in the ecosystem. But her fear, however irrational, was just too great!
You might have a similar fear—one of roller coasters, spiders, heights, or public speaking. How does your body respond when you find yourself face-to-face with it? Find out in the Chemistry of Fear and Fright, part of the Chemistry Now series of lesson packages produced by the partnership of NBC Learn, NSF, and NSTA. Perhaps use the Common Phobias photographs as a bellringer slide show. But be careful … you and your students could become too frightened to continue!
Need a team project? Listen to the 1938 War of the Worlds radio broadcast (available on the Internet for free download) and use the historical perspective included here as a springboard for projects, discussions, and research into fear, mass hysteria, and the power dramatization.
–Judy Elgin Jensen
Photo of vertical drop SheiKra roller coaster by Joshua Kaufman
Video: “Chemistry of Fear and Fright,” explains what fear is, chemically: a series of responses in the brain and body caused by the release of two hormones that ready the body for “fight or flight” action.
Video: The NBC animation “Word Roots: Phobos,” creatively shows derivations of the Greek root phobos, meaning “fear.”
Video: The news report “New Ways to Treat Phobias” gives students insights into kinds of phobias and how they can be treated.
Video: The historical perspective “Orson Welles Recalls ‘War of the Worlds’ Broadcast 40 Years Later“ describes how the broadcast scared the public and Orson Welles reaction to the public panic.
Middle school lesson: This lesson guides students in exploring how the human body reacts to fear triggers.
High school lesson: In this lesson students investigate how Daphnia respond to stresses and make an analogy to how the body reacts to fear triggers.
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