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The Fear Factor: How One Emotion Connects Altruists, Psychopaths, and Everyone In-Between

3.92  ·  Rating details ·  149 ratings  ·  25 reviews
"At fourteen, Amber could boast of killing her guinea pig, threatening to burn down her home, and seducing men in exchange for gifts. She used the tools she had available to get what she wanted, like all children. But unlike other children, she didn't care about the damage she inflicted. A few miles away, Lenny Skutnik cared so much about others that he jumped into an ice- ...more
Hardcover, 320 pages
Published October 10th 2017 by Basic Books (first published October 2017)
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3.92  · 
Rating details
 ·  149 ratings  ·  25 reviews

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L.A. Starks
Nov 19, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
One of the best nonfiction books of the year--make room in your schedule to read The Fear Factor!

Marsh contrasts scientific studies and brain scans of psychopaths and altruists to demonstrate pyschopaths do not feel fear, either their own or others. On the other hand, altruists and those we think of as heroic feel fear intensely yet act in the face of it, while maintaining they are doing--as they truly believe--"what anyone would do."

In a special note for readers: literacy and reading is correla
Candi Sary
Dec 28, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I heard about 'The Fear Factor' a few times on NPR and it sounded intriguing. I read mostly fiction. I pick up non-fiction now and then and I'll read a few chapters at a time between novels. But 'The Fear Factor' I finished in less than a week. It was as compelling as a novel! Diving into the psychology of psychopaths and altruists pulled me in while Marsh’s relatable writing kept me interested. Her personality comes through the writing and makes the book as enjoyable as it is powerful. The chap ...more
This book was mostly very interesting and well-researched. One thing I took serious issue with though was her almost nonchalant dismissal of the concept of "rape culture." In her support for the idea that people think the world is much worse than it is, she writes "A Google Trends search finds over ten times as many news stories on campus sexual assault in 2016 than there were five years prior. The word 'epidemic' frequently crops up in these articles, which probably contributes to the fact that ...more
J Crossley
Dr. Marsh used brain imaging to research how fear is felt in both altruistics and in psychopaths.

She found that psychopaths do not register fear in either themselves or in others. They don't understand why other people would feel fear.

In altruistic people, she found that seeing fearful facial expressions caused the need to give more. By knowing how fear functions in different types of people, you can better guage solicitations for donations.

I found the information about fear (or lack of fear)
Robert Miller
May 28, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Psychopaths, according to the author, Abigail Marsh, do not recognize expressions of fear. They do not experience humility either. Altruists do acknowledge fear when they see it. The section of the brain called the amygdala is essential where detection of fear is concerned. Brain Scans using fMRI reveal little or no activity in the amygdala of psychopaths, and a heightened presence of activity is found in the amygdala of altruists.

Marsh recognizes that there are multiple levels of altruism rang
Mar 05, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
While at times interesting, overall this was a not particularly well written book about Marsh's research that wasn't really pulled together well into a cohesive narrative. Marsh has found that psychopaths do not recognize faces that display fear, they are not sure what a fearful looking face represents. On the other end of the spectrum, at least I think this is what she was saying, is that people who are super altruistic, like kidney donors, are hyper aware of fearful faces. Near the end of the ...more
Aug 07, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: black
Dr. Abigail Marsh, the author of this book, seems to be entirely too nice a person to be studying psychopaths. She shares tales of her own fears, embarrassingly emotional responses to baby turtles, and otherwise seems like the nicest person. Picturing her interviewing one psychopath after another is kind of the thing that you would expect to be set up in a Hollywood thriller, where you just know the nice blond lady with the big smile is going to get kidnapped or worse.

But, thus far at least, she
Jul 09, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Found the first part about psychopathy to be really fascinating. Also enjoyed the information about the super-altruists, the living organ donors. I was excited to read about the heroic act of Senator Corey Booker (Booker for President!!); I had no idea.

The role of oxytocin and the concept of alloparenting ("other mothering") was incredibly fun. Retrieving pups between 247-684 times that weren't always their own pups was an interesting read on mothering in mice and how (page 172). K-selection (p
Edric Subur
Jan 18, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
“True selfless heroism emerges not from the absence of fear, but because of it”

Key takeaways:
- What makes someone a psychopath is not much so of their upbringing or external influence but their biology. Their amyglada, a part of the brain structure, is impaired and prohibits them from recognizing other people’s fear

- Altruists on the other hand, have amyglada that is significantly more responsive to others’ fear which promotes compassion. This leads to extraordinary acts of kindness that seems
May 26, 2018 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I respect that the author praises altruistic people such as kidney donors and those who'll risk their lives for a perfect stranger. Instead of celebrating these as sublime deeds she over analyzes and reduces them to a few neurotransmitters.

She discusses the problem of altruism - that scientifically speaking, it couldn't evolve because it has no survival value; an altruistic "organism" won't pass altruistic traits on to it's offspring because it is probably dead. Now, yes, you might say there is
May 31, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
May 30, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
If Myanmar is the most altruistic country in the world, why do we have thousands of Rohingya refugees finding themselves stateless? If I am not wrong, then it was the Buddhist nationalists who began the “ethnic cleansing”. What is the association between literacy rate of radical nationalists and their acts of violence? What is the relationship between empathy and individual’s own financial/personal situations?

I do agree however, that conducting heroic acts and being fearful are not mutually excl
Susan Waller
Jan 07, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Great book! The title is off-putting, but The Fear Factor is an engaging, and often funny scientific study of psychopathy and its opposite, extreme altruism. Turns out it's the amygdala! In psychopaths the amygdala is smaller and not active; in extreme altruists the amygdala is larger and more active. This is a simplification of course, but I was surprised to learn how much that ancient part of our brains affects our everyday lives. The author incorporates data from her own and other scientific ...more
Gabriella Aragon
Although I enjoyed this book a lot, the last few chapters i couldn't finish.

Marsh should know better than to say this country is safer than it's ever been.

As a woman, is she not aware that rape cases don't get reported because police essentially ignore them?
The same for crimes committed against people if color.

Those studies are inaccurate and it's a shame Marsh decided to use government funded/backed studies when it's obvious the government doesnt care about its people.
Jan 04, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Thoroughly researched, including original research, and well argued. Makes a compelling case that what is impaired in psychopaths is super-enhanced in extraordinary altruists or 'heroes'.

Love the message that true heroes loathe being called that. Such an appellation and all the attention that goes with it makes them tremendously uncomfortable, not least because they are among the most humble people on earth.
Aug 05, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This narrative through research of altruistic and psychopathic behaviors in humans contains a lot of statistical and evidence based information in an easily digestible language. I'm not a specialist in the author's field of study, but was interested in the topic, and this book felt like I was its target demographic.
Dec 06, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This was surprisingly great. Backs up a lot of my lefty lit premises with scientific evidence. Humans aren’t naturally selfish. Quite contrary. It’s fascinating to see why laid out so thoroughly from a vast scientific and anthropological viewpoint.
Felipe CZ
May 31, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A very interesting book, I never expected it to talk about Buddhism, but it is surprising how fear can be used for positive (and negative) things in humans.
May 31, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: personal-growth
Fear is an emotion that has quite a bad reputation and is often misunderstood. But the truth is that fear allows individuals to feel empathy and perform altruistic acts. Conversely, a complete lack of fear is linked to psychopathic behavior. While the fear response is mainly controlled by neurological processes, there are encouraging signs that empathy and altruism can be improved by meditation and reading books.
High levels of Oxitocin has proved to make people act heroically, especially when c
May 30, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: blinkist
Rating of 3/5 based on Blinkist summary.
Sarah Sale
rated it really liked it
Oct 04, 2018
Penn Jillette
rated it it was amazing
Nov 16, 2017
rated it it was amazing
Apr 19, 2018
Jun 06, 2018 marked it as blinkist  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science, nonfiction
Heather Badenoch
rated it it was amazing
Oct 30, 2018
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Rana Deraz
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Dan Fletcher
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Jan 31, 2018
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Jul 22, 2018
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