Course Syllabus


Neuroscience of Fear

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Semester & Location:

Spring 2020 - DIS Copenhagen

Type & Credits:

Elective Course - 3 credits

Major Disciplines:

Biomedicine/Biotechnology, Neuroscience, Psychology


One year of biology or one semester of Introduction to Neuroscience, Physiological Psychology, or Biological Psychology at the university level

Faculty Member:

Bettina Hornbøll Borch

Program Director:

Susana Dietrich

Time & Place: Tuesdays and Fridays, 11:40-13:00, V10-B24




Bettina Hornbøll Borch

Ph.D. (Neuroscience, University of Copenhagen, 2017), MSc. (Neurobiology, University of Copenhagen, 2006), BA (Biology, University of Copenhagen, 2004). Founder of CogniCation; cognitive communication. Has been conducting neuroscience research for approx. 10 years, investigating emotion processing in the brain using imaging. With DIS since 2012.


Course Description

This course examines neuroscience with a molecular approach. Humans share brain structures controlling the fear response with other mammals, birds, and reptiles. These structures have been evolutionarily preserved because fear helps protect us from danger, injury, and death. Although we are now further removed from the dangerous elements of nature, our primal fear instincts remain. We will examine the neurobiological, psychological, as well as evolutionary aspects of the fear response, and consider how it ties into decision-making in our everyday lives. We will examine this set of issues from a multidisciplinary perspective, synthesizing recent work from the fields of biology, psychology, neuroscience, and philosophy.


Expected Learning Outcomes

Upon completion of the course students will be able to:

  • Explain functioning of the brain in general terms, in particular with respect to the fear system
  • Describe several theories and concepts of emotion, especially fear
  • Identify fear in an evolutionary, biological, philosophical, and psychological sense
  • Discuss the influence of fear in everyday life as well as how fear is a component of several common dysfunctional behaviors


Field Studies

Field studies serve to complement your course work by placing you in other contexts than class in order to compare, extend, and rethink what has been (or will be) read and discussed in class.

Expectations of Students & Code of Conduct

  • Laptops or other electronic devices are not allowed to be open, or used for note taking, in the classroom unless agreed upon for specified tasks.
  • Reading must be done prior to the class session; as a huge part of the class is dependent on discussions in class, it is crucial for your learning to be prepared before each class.
  • You will need to be present and participating to receive full credit. Your grade will be deducted for unexcused absences and lack of participation. Remember to be in class on time!
  • Classroom etiquette includes being respectful of one another’s opinions, listening to others, and entering a dialogue in a constructive manner, as well as asking any questions you might have in regards to the material covered.
  • Extensions: There will be no extensions. Any exceptions must be accompanied by prior agreement with me. Late work will not be accepted. It will not be possible to rewrite or edit any written assignments after the deadline. 


Assignments, Evaluation, and Grading

Engagement & Participation


Group presentation of research paper (Group grade)


Research project: Written part


Research project: Oral part


Exams during the semester




To be eligible for a passing grade in this, class you must complete all of the assigned work.

Approach to Teaching

A big part of the class will be spent in small groups discussing the material. It is therefore crucial that students come prepared for class in order to be able to contribute to both group debates and class discussions. The students are expected to be engaged and participate in an interactive way by contributing with questions, opinions, and explanations both in groups and individually.

Engagement & Participation

You will need to be present and actively participating to receive full credit (see “Approach to teaching”). Class engagement is to be understood as critically evaluating: (a) the models/hypotheses suggested in readings (b) asking relevant questions to get a broader knowledge of the material (c) being prepared for class ready to answer questions when asked (d) discussing implications as regards to practical application and/or future research considerations (e) handing in evaluations of reading material

Three exams throughout the semester

Throughout the semester there will be three exams, containing questions of multiple choice, short answer, and essay questions based on class readings and discussions. All exams will be electronic.

Group presentation and discussion in class

The presentations should have a logical and clear structure, provide relevant background information, explain the methods used, present the original data in a clear and interesting way, briefly discuss the findings in relation to previous research, and state the conclusions and perspectives of the results. The background information should include a short introduction to fear in general and an overview of the research topic in question.

Presentation (group grade)

Only to be made by the ONE group presenting


  • Presentation in class
  • Followed by a scientific discussion with the class after your presentation, where you will answer questions from the class related to your research paper


  • Present scientific article (see ‘course schedule’ to find the article you are presenting): Introduction, Background, Method, Main Findings/Points of paper, Conclusion.
  • Implement your answers to questions from other groups into the presentation.
  • Why is this article important for this area of research?
  • Relate the findings to the theme
  • Why is this an important/interesting field of science?
  • Manage scientific discussion.

Questions for presenting group (part of Presentation grade)

Each member of the group responsible for asking questions to the presenting group will upload a minimum of one question, ONE WEEK in advance of the group presentation.

The questions should relate to the material presented by the group.

Debate group for group presentation (part of Presentation grade)

The debate group will be prepared to ask the presenting group questions about the presentation itself, about the paper being presented, or questions in general relating to the material being presented. It is important that the debate group is as prepared when they show up for class as the presenting group in order for a good discussion to be carried out.  

Research Project

The purpose of the research project is to give you experience and practice in doing research on a scientific concept/mechanism/disorder (mental/neurological) related to “Neuroscience of Fear” and communicating the information to a general audience (like yourselves). You have to find the appropriate literature and make scientific conclusions based on results of research projects. In a field of research, it is important to not only being able to find valuable information, but also to communicate the findings. Therefore this project will combine these two challenges by consisting of a written and an oral part.  

Written part:

Each student is to make a review paper, based on scientific articles on a topic, drawn from the primary literature (i.e., not review articles, Wikipedia, etc.).

Oral part:

Based on the experience from group presentations in class during the semester, each student will present the main finding of their own research project in class.

Academic Regulations  

Please make sure to read the Academic Regulations on the DIS website. There you will find regulations on:

 DIS - Study Abroad in Scandinavia -


DIS Contacts

Kathrine Whitman Program Assistant, 
Susana Dietrich, Science & Health Program Director
Science & Health Office: Vestergade 7-37



Required Reading

We will primarily be using scientific articles combined with book chapters when appropriate. All reading material will be made available on Canvas prior to class.


Recommended material:

  1. The app “iSurf Brainview Desktop” which can be downloaded for free from the apple app store has a general reference for brain structures and functions. Apple app store:

  2. is a web page in relation to a book of the same name, and contains all kinds of interesting and useful information about the human brain.

Reading List

Caspi, A. (2003). Influence of Life Stress on Depression: Moderation by a Polymorphism in the 5-HTT Gene. Science, 301(5631), 386–389.

Cikara, M., Farnsworth, R. A., Harris, L. T., & Fiske, S. T. (2010). On the wrong side of the trolley track: neural correlates of relative social valuation. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, 5(4), 404–413.

Damasio, A. R. (1996). The somatic marker hypothesis and the possible functions of the prefrontal cortex. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London Series B, Biological Sciences, 351(1346), 1413–1420.

Davydow, D. S., Zatzick, D., Hough, C. L., & Katon, W. J. (2013). A longitudinal investigation of posttraumatic stress and depressive symptoms over the course of the year following medical-surgical intensive care unit admission. General Hospital Psychiatry, 35(3), 226–232.

Dedovic, K., Duchesne, A., Andrews, J., Engert, V., & Pruessner, J. C. (2009). The brain and the stress axis: The neural correlates of cortisol regulation in response to stress. NeuroImage, 47(3), 864–871.

Ehrlich, I., Humeau, Y., Grenier, F., Ciocchi, S., Herry, C., & Lüthi, A. (2009). Amygdala Inhibitory Circuits and the Control of Fear Memory. Neuron, 62(6), 757–771.

Etkin, A., Prater, K. E., Hoeft, F., Menon, V., & Schatzberg, A. F. (2010). Failure of anterior cingulate activation and connectivity with the amygdala during implicit regulation of emotional processing in generalized anxiety disorder. The American Journal of Psychiatry, 167(5), 545–554.

Fisher, P. M., & Hariri, A. R. (2012). Linking variability in brain chemistry and circuit function through multimodal human neuroimaging. Genes, Brain and Behavior, 11(6), 633–642.

Grady, C. L., Siebner, H. R., Hornboll, B., Macoveanu, J., Paulson, O. B., & Knudsen, G. M. (2012). Acute pharmacologically induced shifts in serotonin availability abolish emotion-selective responses to negative face emotions in distinct brain networks. European Neuropsychopharmacology, 1–11.

Hariri A.R. (2009). The neurobiology of individual differences in complex behavioral traits. Annual Rewievs Neuroscience 32:225-247.

Hartley, C. A., & Phelps, E. A. (2009). Changing Fear: The Neurocircuitry of Emotion Regulation. Neuropsychopharmacology : Official Publication of the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology, 35(1),   136–146.

 Hornboll, B., Macoveanu, J., Rowe, J., Elliott, R., Paulson, O. B., Siebner, H. R., & Knudsen, G. M. (2013). Acute serotonin 2A receptor blocking alters the processing of fearful faces in the orbitofrontal cortex and amygdala. Journal of Psychopharmacology (Oxford, England).

Jovanovic, T., & Ressler, K. J. (2010). How the neurocircuitry and genetics of fear inhibition may inform our understanding of PTSD. The American Journal of Psychiatry, 167(6), 648–662.

Kandell, E.R., Schwartz, J.H., & Jessel, T.M. (2000). Principles of Neural Science (4th ed.). Pages: 19-34, 125-132, 154-158, 182-185.  

Kalbitzer, J., Erritzoe, D., Holst, K. K., Nielsen, F. Å., Marner, L., Lehel, S., et al. (2010). Seasonal Changes in Brain Serotonin Transporter Binding in Short Serotonin Transporter Linked Polymorphic Region-Allele Carriers but Not in Long-Allele Homozygotes. Biological Psychiatry, 67(11), 1033–1039.

Koenigsberg, H. W., Fan, J., Ochsner, K. N., Liu, X., Guise, K., Pizzarello, S., et al. (2010). Neural correlates of using distancing to regulate emotional responses to social situations. Neuropsychologia, 48(6), 1813–1822.

LeDoux, J. E., & Muller, J. (1997). Emotional memory and psychopathology. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London Series B, Biological Sciences, 352(1362), 1719–1726.

Lonsdorf, T. B., Weike, A. I., Nikamo, P., Schalling, M., Hamm, A. O., & Ohman, A. (2009). Genetic gating of human fear

learning and extinction: possible implications for gene-environment interaction in anxiety disorder. Psychological Science : a Journal of the American Psychological Society / APS, 20(2), 198–206.

Madsen, K. S., Jernigan, T. L., Iversen, P., Frokjaer, V. G., Mortensen, E. L., Knudsen, G. M., & Baaré, W. F. C. (2012). Cortisol awakening response and negative emotionality linked to asymmetry in major limbic fibre bundle architecture. Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging, 201(1), 63–72.

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

Pezawas, L., Meyer-Lindenberg, A., Drabant, E. M., Verchinski, B. A., Munoz, K. E., Kolachana, B. S., et al. (2005). 5-HTTLPR polymorphism impacts human cingulate-amygdala interactions: a genetic susceptibility mechanism for depression. Nature Neuroscience, 8(6), 828–834.

Phelps, E. (2004). Human emotion and memory: interactions of the amygdala and hippocampal complex. Current Opinion in Neurobiology, 14(2), 198–202.

Phillips, M. L., Drevets, W. C., Rauch, S. L., & Lane, R. (2003). Neurobiology of emotion perception II: implications for major psychiatric disorders. Biological Psychiatry, 54(5), 515–528.

Prinz, J. (2006). The emotional basis of moral judgments. Philosophical Explorations, 9(1), 29–43. doi:10.1080/13869790500492466

Raine, A. (2013) The Anatomy of Violence. Penguin UK.

Soares, S. C., Esteves, F., Lundqvist, D., & ÖHMAN, A. (2009). Some animal specific fears are more specific than others:

Evidence from attention and emotion measures. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 47(12), 1032–1042.

William, J. (1884). What is an Emotion? Oxford Journals, 9(34), 188–205. ISBN: 14602113

Whalen, P. J., & Phelps, E. A. (2009). The human amygdala. Pages: 204-217, 321-343. Guilford Publication. ISBN: 9781606230336

ÖHMAN, A. (2005). The role of the amygdala in human fear: Automatic detection of threat. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 30(10), 953–958.

Course Summary:

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