The advice to not show fear is often given, and for good reason. Displaying fear will make one appear weaker, increase the likelihood of others attacking, and cause self-doubt to spread. However, it is peculiar that evolution has integrated not only the feeling of fear in the body, but also its outward display. In situations of fear, we not only fight against the fear itself, which(fear) is sometimes unhelpful, but also against the outward display of fear, which is always harmful.

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    $\begingroup$ what makes you say that the outward display of fear is always harmful? if you can provide one real-world example where it's harmful to display fear, i bet i could modify it very slightly (typically by adding one additional person with whom i am affiliated) to show how displaying fear would be beneficial. $\endgroup$
    – faustus
    Commented Mar 23, 2023 at 4:55

1 Answer 1


I'd turn the question on its head: it's not necessary that there are evolutionary advantages to displaying fear, it's that there are evolutionary advantages to being afraid, and to some extent for detecting fear.

Fear responses in humans are demonstrations of the fight-or-flight response. Accelerated breathing, increased muscle tension, piloerection, etc, are all part of getting ready to respond to a threat. Masking these behaviors may be beneficial, but being utterly unprepared to act can be costlier than letting someone else know you are afraid. For a predator or aggressor, knowing you are ready to fight back can be more of a deterrent than communicating that you have not detected them and are unprepared for them to strike.

At the same time, there may be social benefits to letting others know you are afraid: it's a signal to others in your social group that they should also be afraid and be prepared to react to an attack by an eagle or tiger, for example. Children need to learn from their parents what situations are dangerous.

Debiec, J., & Olsson, A. (2017). Social fear learning: from animal models to human function. Trends in cognitive sciences, 21(7), 546-555.

Öhman, A., & Wiens, S. (2003). On the automaticity of autonomic responses in emotion: An evolutionary perspective.

Olsson, A., & Phelps, E. A. (2007). Social learning of fear. Nature neuroscience, 10(9), 1095-1102.

for a broader perspective on "Why didn't/did X evolve", see this Biology.SE Q&A: https://biology.stackexchange.com/questions/35532/why-do-some-bad-traits-evolve-and-good-ones-dont


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