The dominance of fear over hope in the life of individuals and collectives

Maria Jarymowicz, Daniel Bar-Tal*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


We address the question why fear dominates hope in the life of individuals and collectives on the basis of the accumulated knowledge in the psychology, neurology and sociology of emotions. This knowledge suggests that fear, as primary emotion, is grounded in the experienced present and based on the memorized past, processed both consciously and unconsciously, causes freezing and conservatism, and sometimes leads to pre-emptive aggression. Hope, in contrast, as a secondary emotion, involves cognitive activity, which requires anticipation and the search for new ideas and thus is based on complex processes of creativity and flexibility. Therefore, hope is often preceded and inhibited by spontaneous, automatically activated and faster fear. Fear and hope can each become a collective emotional orientation, and as such organize society's views and direct its actions. Societies involved in intractable conflict are dominated by a collective fear orientation. This orientation is functional for society's coping with the stressful and demanding situation - but it may serve as a psychological obstacle to any peace process, once it starts. The case of the collective fear orientation in the Jewish Israeli society is presented as an example. The article ends with a presentation of a particular approach, suggesting that individuals and collectives can overcome their fear with much determination, and establish an orientation of hope which allows change in situations dominated by fear.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)367-392
Number of pages26
JournalEuropean Journal of Social Psychology
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 2006


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