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Understanding and Overcoming Fear

Uncover the scientific, historical, and sociological dimensions of fear as you explore the ways humans experience the world and how fear can be both a positive and a negative force in our lives.
Understanding and Overcoming Fear is rated 3.6 out of 5 by 17.
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Rated 2 out of 5 by from Too Much Fluff Unfortunately, this course is largely hand-waving with below average presentation skills. The support for Dr. Kerr’s claims is often more anecdotal than scientific and it provides more value judgments than I expected. After an extended and largely irrelevant introduction, Dr. Kerr turns to the heart of the course in a series of lectures each of which addresses a specific fear. Some of these are what one might expect: death and trauma. More often, the topics are general social ills: crime, confinement (prison, not claustrophobia), crowds, risk, cybercrime, pandemics (such as COVID-19), climate change, and government corruption. In these lectures, Dr. Kerr describes these what these fears are and how prevalent they are but she does not describe how these fears work physiologically. I am surprised at how little attention she gives to the “overcoming” part of the title although there are two very general lectures at the end about mindfulness, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), and Exposure Therapy. These treatments are not linked to specific fears addressed in previous lectures. Maybe it’s just me, but at times Dr. Kerr seemed to regard religion as a superstition or fear to be overcome. Dr. Kerr’s presentation style is below average by TGC standards. She stands stiffly with fingertips touching in front of her. She seems to be reading from an essay she wrote rather than conversing with the audience. There is more movement of the camera than of the lecturer. This wooden speaking style, coupled with the soft technical content, poses a significant communication challenge. The course guide is below average by The Great Courses (TGC) standards. It is written in bullet format like the most trite PowerPoint slides. There are few graphics and even they are not particularly insightful. Each lecture ends with suggested reading and a short quiz to review the course material. There are about 7 pages per lecture, which is about average by TGC standards. There is a bibliography but no glossary of technical terms, perhaps because there is not enough technical content to warrant a glossary. I used the video streaming option. However, very little is lost by using audio-only mode such as while commuting or exercising. As with the course guide, there is very little in the way of useful graphics. The video is mostly watching Dr. Kerr speak (or perhaps read from a teleprompter). The course was published in 2021.
Date published: 2023-07-04
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Mistitled Like some of the other reviewers, I think this course is grossly mistitled. "Understanding and Overcoming Fear" suggests to me a psychology course which explains fear in a meaningful way and offers practical help to decrease its sometimes debilitating effects. Instead, this is a course on sociology which uses "fear" as a very loose theme to highlight various sociological phenomena which are of interest or concern to the professor. Whether these same phenomena are of great interest or concern to the viewers will likely depend on the political orientation of each viewer, as I explain below. Because her research centers around people who voluntarily subject themselves to frightening experiences, e.g. haunted houses, there are a handful of lectures devoted to this "fun-scary" topic, as Dr. Kerr terms it. A few of the other lectures focused on traditional fears such as the fear of crowds, the fear of public speaking and the fear of death. Otherwise, there are numerous lectures which take on a very decided far-left political perspective in the name of discussing fear. For example, a lecture on "Fear of Criminal and Deviant Behavior" focused solely on how prisoners have been mistreated through the millennia, with nary a word on why prisons are necessary or even why it might make sense to fear criminals. "Fear of Corrupt Government Officials" took up the mantle for George Floyd with no discussion on how difficult it is to be a police officer. "Fear of Pandemics" never once mentioned that many intelligent people of good will have different opinions regarding lock downs and mandatory vaccinations. Instead, the discussion became a vehicle to praise Joe Biden while slamming Donald Trump. "Fear of Climate Change" assumed that this nascent science is settled truth and, once again, doesn't allow for different opinions. In addition, many "woke" themes were woven into the narrative unnecessarily throughout the course with a great emphasis on "oppressed and marginalized people". Call me crazy, but I just don't expect to hear the term "hetero-normative" repeated several times in a course about fear. To be clear, I welcome learning from people who have a different perspective from me, political or otherwise. However, when supposedly highly-educated people turn preachy and present only one view with no alternatives allowed, I lose respect. To illustrate, another TGC course entitled "Understanding the Dark Side of Human Nature" addresses many of the same topics this course does, only more from a personal perspective. The professor of that course, Daniel Breyer, makes no secret of the fact that he holds very pacifistic, far-left views on how criminal should be treated, views very similar to those of Margee Kerr. In contrast to Dr. Kerr, however, Dr. Breyer shares his opinions in a compassionate, non-judgmental way which leaves you with great respect for his well-thought out views. Dr. Kerr may want to watch his course for some good pointers on how to present your material in a way that doesn't offend people unnecessarily. Maybe I'm just from a different generation and have very different ideas about how to interact with people, but this practice of interjecting politics into every discussion in a one-sided way comes across to me as intellectually lazy and of little value. For this reason, I do not recommend this course.
Date published: 2023-03-07
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Nothing About How to Handle Fear Except Therapy This course title and description are very misleading, and the delivery and conclusions are frustratingly a total dud. Summary: you will get a very narrow, biased so-called 'history' of fear, a completely ignorant interpretation of literary archetypes (to be fair, not her major though), and promotion of all the big mainstream media talking points during which you must endure her lecturing you as your obvious moral superior. In the end, she will not tell you how you can do anything right now for yourself to help ease any of the real fears that weigh most heavily on the average person like social anxiety, navigating fear of change in work and family, fear of not achieving our goals or financial fears. Instead, she will go on and on about things few of us deeply worry about, and then just prescribe professional therapy and drugs. Great! So useful. The type of therapy she advertises that she is in the middle of trying to develop herself sounds interesting, but it's also not helpful to know because it is still in development and not available to any of us now. Nice pitch though for your future funding grants. Thanks. Lectures 1-6 are decent and interesting and probably even new-to-you ideas, but after that, it's just hours you will never be able to get back. The entire thing is simply read to you by Kerr who ironically remains stock still as if frozen with fear herself while she quickly reads through her prompter without taking a breath or barely even blinking. Talk about robotic. She also has made very little attempt in making what she wrote with the intent only to read to you in this course as plain and straightforward as it could be, peppering it with plenty of unnecessary jargon and $20 words. It's not that I don't know the meaning of these words, but that that 'big words' diminish clarity and for topics like this that the viewers may have zero familiarity with, you should consider keeping it as clear as possible. Example, why choose the word 'utilize' when 'use' is much more clear and straightforward? Lots and lots of that in here. Watching lectures 1-6 were the best, most interesting parts. You can pretty much stop after that.
Date published: 2022-06-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Outstanding Very informative for one who has had some fearful experiences
Date published: 2022-04-22
Rated 3 out of 5 by from I misunderstood the concept Dr. Kerr sure knows her topic. From the title I was excited to learn how to deal with my own fears. Instead, the bulk of the series is more a sociological and historical treatment of what makes us afraid rather than a practical psychological approach. If you're looking for the former, this series is for you.
Date published: 2022-04-11
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Disappointing I was looking forward to this course but after several lessons, I realized that it wasn't going to get any more interesting than what I had watched so far. Clearly the instructor knows her stuff but the delivery was so static. She sat in one position and just lectured to the camera. Maybe if she moved around a bit, but I'm sorry, I can't sit through a video of someone in dark clothing against a dark background who simply sits and reads a lecture. Oh there was the occasional photo to serve as an illustration but it wasn't enough to keep me interested. After 8 lessons, I bailed. This format is not for everyone.
Date published: 2022-02-19
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Great course I have only praise for the lecturer and her presentation. What annoys and distracts me is the use of the camera that regularly shifts from frontal view to a side view. I have noticed that in other Wondrium courses as well.
Date published: 2022-02-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Sounds like our ego. I know ego is translated different though always a specific term leading to my erroneous mistakes. Chinese the heart I think. English, the ovulation of the egg. Both to do with our heart. Fear, is something which I think must be pretended to be nonexistent in preference of our egos. I can be scared right now however I ain't because of time & location, the distance from danger from said location in terms of time and place is irrelevant. The fact is fear is our pain 24/7 whether aware of pain is irrelevant also. This unawareness of pain is guilt which is physical pain 24/7 awarez or unawares. This was probably my favourite childhood topic, the amygdala. Along with Pavlov's dog. Again just place & time. So definitely a course I'd follow closely.
Date published: 2022-01-27
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In Understanding and Overcoming Fear, sociologist Margee Kerr, PhD, explains the physiological and contextual aspects of fear, revealing the complexities of this powerful emotion and explaining why you can never experience the exact same fear twice. In 24 exciting episodes, Professor Kerr takes you on a journey similar to the one she has taken in her own work—from considering fear as a toxic, destructive force that needs to be defeated to an emotion with tremendous upsides in the right circumstances.


Margee Kerr

I’ve dedicated my career to learning everything I can about the up sides and the down sides of fear.


University of Pittsburgh

Margee Kerr is a sociologist and author. She earned her PhD from the University of Pittsburgh, where she teaches and conducts research on fear. Specifically, she examines how and why people engage in scary experiences like haunted attractions, horror movies, and paranormal investigations. Findings from her research offer insight into how people manage stress and what positive gains can result from challenging fears.

Margee is a regular presenter and public speaker at events such as TEDxFoggyBottom and conferences hosted by organizations such as the Society for Affective Science and The Franklin Institute, where she speaks on topics related to fear and dark tourism. She also serves as a consultant for attractions and museums, including the International Spy Museum and Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site, where she advises on how to create engaging, informative, and entertaining content regarding the science of fear.

Margee is the author of SCREAM: Chilling Adventures in the Science of Fear and coauthor of OUCH! Why Pain Hurts, and Why It Doesn’t Have To (with Linda Rodriguez McRobbie). Her work has been featured in The New York Times, Parade, The Atlantic, NPR’s Science Friday, and The Guardian.

By This Professor

Understanding and Overcoming Fear
Understanding and Overcoming Fear


What Is Fear?

01: What Is Fear?

Discover the biological aspects of fear shared by all humans in our central and peripheral nervous systems. But even with those commonalities, each of us responds to fear a bit differently—as illustrated by your professor’s somewhat harrowing experience on EdgeWalk at the CN Tower in Chicago.

28 min
Why Do People Want to Be Scared?

02: Why Do People Want to Be Scared?

Each fall, people pay their hard-earned money for the privilege of being “scared to death” in haunted houses. In fact, all types of horror-themed recreation are on the rise. Why is that? Discover the many factors that affect how we interpret that feeling of “fun-scary,” and you might be surprised to learn what brainwave activity reveals about the experience.

32 min
How We Sense Fear

03: How We Sense Fear

How can we understand fear now that scientists have moved beyond the outdated notion that our emotions are discrete, innate experiences written into our DNA? Explore how the more modern theory of constructed emotion explains fear, and why you will never experience the exact same fear twice.

30 min
Understanding Specific Phobias

04: Understanding Specific Phobias

Millions of Americans experience an excessive or even debilitating fear of objects or situations that most people don’t find frightening at all. Explore the many subtypes of phobias—from a pathological fear of specific animals to weather—how they affect mental and physical health, and the most effective treatments.

33 min
How We Learn to Fear

05: How We Learn to Fear

Is it possible that our sense of the world is generated in our own minds, as opposed to our sense of the world resulting from what we experience? Absolutely. We are always running an internal model of the world just milliseconds ahead of our conscious awareness. Explore what happens when our predicted world and the real world just don’t match up. Creepy dolls, clown faces, and robots, anyone?

29 min
Why We Feel Afraid: The Science of Emotion

06: Why We Feel Afraid: The Science of Emotion

Why do we scream with delight on a rollercoaster—and keep coming back for more—when that experience puts our physical systems into the fight, flight, or threat mode? Learn about the body’s predictive systems and what happens to them when we choose to run straight toward that rollercoaster or haunted house.

29 min
The Function and Meaning of the Scary Story

07: The Function and Meaning of the Scary Story

Whether you love them or hate them, scary stories always pack a punch. Why are these types of stories particularly well-suited to help us make sense of the unknown? How do they help us share critical cautionary warnings about our biggest threats and how do they transmit culture? Learn how a terrifying story really can help us feel calmer.

27 min
Monster as Metaphor

08: Monster as Metaphor

The word “monster” comes from the Latin root meaning “to warn.” What do the monsters of our literature and entertainment warn us about? Discover how Godzilla, Frankenstein’s monster, and the 20th century’s fictional serial killers reflect the people and cultures from which they were born, while warning of the destruction that can come when we step outside the boundaries of civilized society.

29 min
Fear of Criminal and Deviant Behavior

09: Fear of Criminal and Deviant Behavior

How do we decide which people, places, and things threaten us and cause us fear? Is that process always logical? Discover why some sociologists believe deviant behavior actually helps keep the society together. After all, if we couldn’t label some behaviors and terrifyingly reprehensible and definitely “not us,” how could be sure which behaviors are “us”?

29 min
Fear of Confinement

10: Fear of Confinement

You may never have used the term “total institutions,” but chances are they’ve played a role in almost every scary story you’ve ever heard. These are the institutions that are specifically designed to isolate people, usually against their will. Explore why we both fear these institutions and flock to some of them in droves as the most popular tourist attractions around today.

31 min
Fear of Crowds

11: Fear of Crowds

We have reason to fear a crowd of people that seems to suddenly erupt into chaotic panic; we all have heard stories of people being trampled to death. But what was really happening in that crowd? Discover whether a panicked crowd tends to be the cause or result of a disaster and how crowd collapse can be avoided.

30 min
Facing Fears as a Nation

12: Facing Fears as a Nation

National threats play a key role in our biggest fears. Learn what earlier Americans feared on a daily basis and how our national fears have changed over the decades. And discover how the experiences of our military men and women have greatly influenced our scientific understanding of fear itself.

27 min
Fears for Our Kids

13: Fears for Our Kids

Could our children today be “too soft?” Are parents today overprotective or not protective enough? Explore how parenting attitudes about fear have evolved over the last century, and what research has revealed about the fears, anxieties, and well-being of children today.

27 min
How Avoiding Risk Can Increase Fear

14: How Avoiding Risk Can Increase Fear

Americans are safer today from many forms of violent crime than they ever have been. And yet, people feel their families are at greater risk of violent harm. Explore the roles played by each of the following in this dilemma—the insurance industry, revision in tort law, and the burgeoning industry of risk management.

28 min
Fear of Cybercrime

15: Fear of Cybercrime

On the internet, we’re never really sure we have enough security, and that vulnerability leads to fear. In fact, polls show that people fear cybercrime over violent crime by a three-to-one margin. Learn about the legal mechanisms that have been put in place to curb that vulnerability and what experts say we need to do to calm those fears.

29 min
Fear of Pandemics

16: Fear of Pandemics

While we often want to avoid fear, the truth is, fear is a great motivator that can provoke people to join together and fight when the fight is warranted. Explore the use of language in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. Was that a good time to use calming language to quell public fear? Would public fear have led to panic or to appropriate protective measures?

28 min
Fear of Climate Change

17: Fear of Climate Change

You’ve heard about climate change for years, but you might be surprised to learn just how widespread American fears about climate change really are. Explore this new “eco-anxiety” that mental health professionals are treating, and what people are, and are not, doing to protect themselves from the threat.

30 min
Fear of Corrupt Government Officials

18: Fear of Corrupt Government Officials

When trust is broken, fear can arise. Using the infamous corruption of Boss Tweed as an example, explore the many ways in which former government officials lost that trust and stoked fear. But, as you will see, Americans are also hopeful and resilient, with the vast majority believing that trust in government can be improved.

28 min
Fear of the Supernatural

19: Fear of the Supernatural

Why is it that belief, fear, and supernatural engagement are all on the rise while Americans report one of their biggest fears to be fear of the supernatural? Explore what neuroscientists and other professionals say about the supernatural and what could cause people to believe they have experienced an otherworldly encounter.

29 min
How Society Shapes Our Fears of Death and Dying

20: How Society Shapes Our Fears of Death and Dying

For centuries, the sick and dying remained in their homes surrounded by friends and family, and death was a familiar part of life. Today, we have removed that familiarity with death from our daily lives and tend to see it only when it occurs suddenly or traumatically. Explore how that shift happened over time and its consequences, including how it changed our fear of death.

27 min
Confronting Our Own Mortality

21: Confronting Our Own Mortality

Each of us will eventually confront one absolute fact—we are mortal. Some psychologists believe this knowledge naturally leads to terror. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Discover how our awareness of our own mortality can be channeled into actions that can lead to a more fulfilling, productive life, and into emotions other than fear.

27 min
Understanding Trauma and Fear

22: Understanding Trauma and Fear

Just over half of Americans will experience at least one traumatic event in their lives. Most people will not have lifelong effects from such an intensely terrifying experience, but some will. Explore the factors that influence our responses to frightening experiences—from the influence of genes, how we form memories, how in touch we are with our bodies, and more.

28 min
Managing Fear with Mindfulness

23: Managing Fear with Mindfulness

At some point, we are all going to have the “most” terrifying experience of our lives. You might assume the results of that experience would necessarily be negative, but that certainly doesn’t have to be the case. Explore the factors that affect how an individual responds to trauma, including interoceptive awareness, and the possibility of posttraumatic growth.

28 min
Using Fear to Fight Fear

24: Using Fear to Fight Fear

Social anxiety disorder—a persistent and intense fear of being negatively judged in social situations—is one of the most common mental health challenges in the United States. Many treatments, including cognitive behavioral therapy, have been proven effective, but all have limitations. Discover “fun-scary” therapy—and why the initial data shows this unusual-sounding approach could be so beneficial.

31 min