Episode #1413 Abigail Marsh: The Fear Factor

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Moe Abdou is joined by acclaimed psychologist Abigail Marsh to explore why being sensitive to the fears of others is a prelude to understanding our own fears. 


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Abigail Marsh

The Fear Factor View Full Profile

The Fear Factor

One of the more fascinating aspects of being human and working with other human beings is understanding the role that emotion plays in how we experience life.  Certainly, each of us operate within our own set of principles, still none of us are immune to the range of emotional swings that come our way each day.  By far, the most intriguing of those emotions for me is fear.  

I fight fear everyday, and I know that you do too - Maybe its a new project that you’re about to embark on, or a new job you’re starting, or a new relationship, or a difficult conversation you’ve been putting off - regardless of the endeavor, fear is there.  It’s there to cloud your reality, to distort your vision; and more often than not, to trigger irrational behavior that we later regret. 

In moments of fear, I’m often reminded of Seneca’s saying - “we are more often frightened than hurt; and we suffer more from imagination than from reality.”  Those words have always rung true for me and they certainly lessen the grip of fear, still it’s temporary.  I’m not one to believe in nor am I interested in the notion of being fearless; instead, I am more eager to understand the triggers of fear and to identify better methods to manage them.  In her popular TED talk, and beautifully written book - The Fear Factor, Georgetown Professor, Abigail Marsh unpacks her decades of research at Dartmouth College, Harvard University, and the National Institute of Mental Health, to unpack a counterintuitive perspective that explains why having a sensitivity to the fears of others is a prelude to understanding our own realities.    

In my conversation with Abby, we both open up to discuss how we deal with our own fears, and why helping others might be the best antidote to fear.  Here are a few of the questions we discuss:

  • The myths of fear as we know it?
  • Why one’s ability to label the fears of others is a better predictor of altruism?
  • Why altruism can be taught?
  • Why you shouldn’t get rid of negative emotion?
  • Why benevolence lowers your stress/anxiety levels?
  • Why being fearless is likely to lead to a subpar life?
  • What to do when you’re stuck?
  • How to spot an altruistic individual?
  • Resources: