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The Fear Factor

The Fear Factor

How One Emotion Connects Altruists, Psychopaths, and Everyone In-Between

How the brains of psychopaths and heroes show that humans are wired to be good

At fourteen, Amber could boast of killing her guinea pig, threatening to burn down her home, and seducing men in exchange for gifts. She used the tools she had available to get what she wanted, like all children. But unlike other children, she didn’t care about the damage she inflicted. A few miles away, Lenny Skutnik cared so much about others that he jumped into an ice-cold river to save a drowning woman. What is responsible for the extremes of generosity and cruelty humans are capable of? By putting psychopathic children and extreme altruists in an fMRI, acclaimed psychologist Abigail Marsh found that the answer lies in how our brain responds to others’ fear. While the brain’s amygdala makes most of us hardwired for good, its variations can explain heroic and psychopathic behavior.

A path-breaking read, The Fear Factor is essential for anyone seeking to understand the heights and depths of human nature.

“A riveting ride through your own brain.”
–Adam Grant

“You won’t be able to put it down.”
–Daniel Gilbert, New York Times bestselling author of Stumbling on Happiness

“[It] reads like a thriller… One of the most mind-opening books I have read in years.”
–Matthieu Ricard, Author of Altruism
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Genre: Nonfiction / Psychology / Psychopathology

On Sale: October 10th 2017

Price: $16.99 / $21.99 (CAD)

Page Count: 320

ISBN-13: 9781541697201

What's Inside

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Reader Reviews


"This compelling scientific detective story spirals outward into realms that affect everyone. Best of all, [Marsh's] writing style is vivid and personable."
Wall Street Journal
"The Fear Factor is a fascinating tour of altruism research, all the better for being sprinkled with anecdotes about Marsh's life, career and unforgettable research subjects. As well as the extremes of human nature, Marsh says plenty that is of relevance to those of us in the middle of the bell curve, including how we can strive to be more altruistic in our everyday lives."—New Scientist
"Those who seek to comprehend the origin of fear, altruism, and elements of human nature will find this book a key factor in their increased understanding."—Science
"The Fear Factor is a fine example of a book that looks deeper, showing how an ancient part of the brain--central to our emotional lives--plays a pivotal role in who we are and what we do. It's a sharp analysis sprinkled with relatable examples, and an excellent brain book."—Forbes
"Are humans basically good, or does original sin touch all of us? Should people be blamed--or praised--for behavior that is largely related to physiological differences? Is conversion even possible? How far beyond our intimate circles should our love extend? Does perfect love really cast out fear? The Fear Factor could keep a church book group arguing for hours."—Christian Century
"Fear Factor provides an illuminating dive into the science behind both altruism and psychopathy, promising an entertaining read for scientists and laypeople alike."—Paste
"All readers experiencing our national culture of fear, rage, and (perhaps in some cases) a rush to judgment will benefit from this examination of the importance of fear, empathy, humility, and the mysterious physiological conditions that can trigger (organically or not) the extraordinary altruist in all of us. The psychopathy stories are dark and disturbing, the altruism stories are extraordinary, and somewhere in all these shades we can find ourselves."—PopMatters
"Recommend this fascinating text to readers of pop psychology and true crime fans who wish to better understand the minds of potential criminals."
"Let Abigail Marsh guide you on a riveting ride through your own brain. With lively writing and an impressive command of science, she shows how sensitivity to fear can be both a weapon of evil and a force for good."—Adam Grant, New York Times bestselling author of Originals, Give and Take and Option B (with Sheryl Sandberg)
"A brilliant, beautiful, and important book about the things that make some of us angels, some of us devils, and all of us human. You won't be able to put it down."—Daniel Gilbert, New York Times bestselling author of Stumbling on Happiness
"The Fear Factor reads like a thriller. Abigail Marsh takes us through the groundbreaking research that has thrown light on two of the most fundamental traits of human beings: extreme selfishness and extreme altruism. Page after page, she shows convincingly that the capacity to perceive and identify fear and, consequently, to feel empathy as one would for a child in danger, is the key factor that makes us behave as a psychopath or as someone who joyfully gives a kidney to a stranger. One of the most mind-opening books I have read in years."—Matthieu Ricard, Author of Altruism: The Power of Compassion to Change Yourself and the World
Listed as "One of the Best New Emotions Ebooks" by Book Authority
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Meet The Author: Abigail Marsh

Abigail Marsh is an associate professor of psychology and neuroscience at Georgetown. She directs its prize-winning Laboratory on Social and Affective Neuroscience. She lives in Washington, DC.

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