Fear is a common psychological response to perceived threat, uncertainty, and risk. We are all affected by fear, as a normal and important response to situations in which we feel the threat of danger or the unknown. Fear primes our brain and body for a fight-or-flight response.
Our fears are a mixture of the learned and the innate. The innate fear, inherited in our genes, is thought to be responsible for many of our most basic fear reactions.
During simian evolution the formation of eyes changed as diet shifted from predominantly insects to fruit, and colour vision became more enhanced at the expense of low light vision, making fear of darkness a simian-wide fitness-enhancing trait.
It is not hard to see how fear of the dark provided an evolutionary advantage. Twenty million years ago, when this fear is thought to have developed, many predators of simians were nocturnal carnivores, colour blind but possessing excellent low-light vision.
The importance of these primal fears to our survival has had a strong influence on our cultures. Our fear of darkness and of forests (dark places that conceal the unknown) has led them to be central to many of our myths, legends and folktales.
Despite, or perhaps because of our fear, we seem to have an attraction to the darkness that goes beyond the adrenaline rush produced by a scary movie. There is something intrinsically beautiful in many dark images. Maybe in our ordered lives we recognise the darkness not only as a place of fear, but as a refuge for those things we can’t control, including mystery and imagination.