Summary of The Fear Factor

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Rating

8 Overall

8 Importance

8 Innovation

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Recommendation

Psychologist Abigail Marsh was only 19 years old when a stranger saved her life. This transformative event sent her on a trajectory to discover what makes some people put their own well-being at risk for strangers. Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) brain scans of psychopaths and extraordinary altruists led to a major discovery: The most powerful predictor of altruistic behavior is the ability to recognize fearful facial expressions. Psychopaths lack this ability and have a muted fear response themselves, but extreme altruists show a heightened reaction. Marsh brings laboratory research to life. Her underlying message is one of hope and faith in the goodness of humankind. Readers interested in what makes polar opposites like the Hannibal Lecters and the Mother Teresas of the world tick will relish this eye-opening psychology detective story.

In this summary, you will learn

  • Why sensitivity to other people’s fear is a powerful predictor of altruism;
  • How humans evolved to care about one another; and
  • How to foster altruism in the world and become more charitable yourself.
 

About the Author

Abigail Marsh is a tenured professor of psychology at Georgetown University and directs its prize-winning Laboratory on Social and Affective Neuroscience. 

 

Summary

The Roadside Rescuer

In 1996, when Abigail Marsh was 19 years old, she swerved on a highway to avoid hitting a small dog. Her car spun into the fast lane facing oncoming traffic and slid to a stop. As cars narrowly swerved past her, she believed she was going to die. Suddenly, a man’s face appeared at the window.  He had parked his car and run across four lanes of highway traffic at night, a black man risking his life to save a white stranger.


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