Ataraxia is the freedom from distress or worry in ancient Greek philosophy. However, emotions play a vital role in motivation and decision making. Many disorders relate to having excessive emotional reactions or inappropriate triggers for them. There are also a few concerning a lack of or dulled emotional responses. While high levels of stress and anxiety are seen as harmful, the same concern is rarely shown for the opposite end of the spectrum.

I have been unable to find any information about disorders related to dulled or absent anxiety or stress reactions. I assume this is due to the lower perceived harm, or conflation with depression disorders, but I find it hard to believe no one has done any work in this area. Clinical apathy is not what I'm looking for, since that seems to be typified by acute lack of response or interest in immediate stimulus or short time spans.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Welcome to psych.SE. Interesting question, though I'm not entirely sure how to answer it... For example, most people feel some amount of distress committing crimes, being unethical, hurting others, etc, while sociopaths appear to lack this response - is this the sort of thing you are looking for? Or are you asking if too little environmental stress/pressure can be harmful, such as children not being challenged enough, helicopter parenting, and the social safety net? $\endgroup$
    – Arnon Weinberg
    Jul 25, 2019 at 16:36
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ It's certainly simplifying things to say "stress=cortisol" but Addison's disease (and Nelson's) is an example of pathologically low cortisol. As far as more psychological versions, why do you exclude apathy and depression? Certainly both can go hand in hand with anxiety but otherwise seem to be exactly what you are describing. $\endgroup$
    – Bryan Krause
    Jul 25, 2019 at 18:54
  • $\begingroup$ I seem to remember a case where there was someone who had a lack of fear, but not sure there is anything with specifically a lack of anxiety and stress, although they would be presented in cases of fear. $\endgroup$ Jul 26, 2019 at 5:43
  • $\begingroup$ I suppose I don't really mean "immediate distress" anxiety, like from a dangerous or risky undertaking. More along the lines of "People who are fired from their jobs experience greater amounts of stress" which is perfectly reasonable response to the event, and serves as motivation to work towards becoming employed again. The condition I'm curious about is when someone DOESN'T feel stress or anxiety in situations like this. The cortisol route might lead me where I'm trying to go. I'll look into those two diseases. $\endgroup$ Jul 29, 2019 at 5:03
  • $\begingroup$ Addison's and Nelson's, while interesting, are each far more physically detrimental than I was expecting. I suppose it's more of a case of low cortisol can conditionally lead into Addison's. Strangely, nothing I read indicated mental health characteristics as a potential warning sign or indicator of low cortisol levels, while there were many listed physical symptoms. $\endgroup$ Jul 29, 2019 at 5:18

1 Answer 1


Sociopaths (people with Antisocial Personality Disorder) report lower levels of anxiety and stress than the general population. Psychopathic traits tend to foster resiliency and are protective against anxiety.

I'm a board-certified psychiatrist. There is ample evidence in the literature (and basic psych textbooks) that sociopathy have low levels of harm avoidance, decreased physiological responses to stress, and lower overall reported anxiety and fear. There is evidence supporting this.

In fairness, this association has come into question and there are some newer studies that are reevaluating the association between anxiety and sociopathy. Anecdotally, I have never encountered an ASPD patient with comorbid anxiety. I’m sure they exist: I’ve just never seen it, and suspect that it’s rare.

Hofmann, S. G., Korte, K. J., & Suvak, M. K. (2009). The upside of being socially anxious: Psychopathic attributes and social anxiety are negatively associated. Journal of social and clinical psychology, 28(6), 714-727.
Dinn, W. M., & Harris, C. L. (2000). Neurocognitive function in antisocial personality disorder. Psychiatry research, 97(2-3), 173-190.
Dolan, M. C., & Rennie, C. E. (2007). Is juvenile psychopathy associated with low anxiety and fear in conduct-disordered male offenders? Journal of anxiety disorders, 21(8), 1028-1038.


Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.