Merriam-Webster defines Alarm as,

: a device that makes a loud sound as a warning or signal

: a feeling of fear caused by a sudden sense of danger

: a warning of danger

Alarm is a primary emotion paired with Aggression. Alarm is a blend of Fear and Surprise. In Plutchik’s Wheel of Emotions this emotion is listed as Awe. But the meaning of Awe has changed over time, from the original meaning of fear to one of wonder, and Alarm seems a better characterization for the combination of Fear and Surprise.

Alarm is the sudden activation of the fear circuit in the amygdala within our brains. The amygdala is the early warning response center, the call to attention, where words or consciousness are not involved. In case of a major emergency, the amygdala bypasses the conscious brain and immediately initiates the release of adrenaline to increase awareness and ability for action by the body.

The amygdala is also directly responsible for the processing of emotions and memory. When we are in danger and experience fear, the vividness of the emotional response is captured here, and a memory is created. Therefore, when we receive a signal from our perception – an unexpected surprise of perceived danger – without requiring conscious recall, we can act immediately to save ourselves.

The artist for Caricatures displays this feeling of alarm by the image of a person who is startled by the presence of a spider. The immediate physical response is visible through the startled look – the wide open eyes, the gasping mouth, the hands raised in fear, and the hair standing on end. It is a distinctive view into the feeling of alarm.

The emotion Alarm in the Caricature series of sketches.

The emotion Alarm in the Caricature series of sketches.

The artist for Watercolors displays alarm though different imagery. Here a skier turns around and sees the onrushing snow of an avalanche. Without any conscious recall of past situations, the skier knows this is very dangerous. We can imagine the alarm felt by the skier, and the frantic activity to outrun the avalanche.

The emotion Alarm in the Watercolor series of sketches.

The emotion Alarm in the Watercolor series of sketches.