What is the survival advantage to paralyzing fear?

  • #1
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When you're getting chased through the jungle by a tiger it seems as though you would want your mind and body to be functioning at the highest possible level, and yet, sometimes in very frightening situations people freeze and cannot think clearly or act decisively. How did people without the ability to think clearly and act decisively under stress survive and reproduce? Why wasn't this trait weeded out by evolution?
 

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  • #2
AlephZero
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It's a good strategy against predators that only hunt moving prey. Even domesticated dogs and cats show that behavior to some degree.

For any predators, it's much easier to see things when they move. You can verify that yourself by trying to observe wildlife in a "natural" environment.
 
  • #3
phinds
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I agree w/ alephzero, and would add that the standard designations of "fight or flight" as natural responses really should be "fight or flight or freeze". Anecdotally, I have it that if you freeze in such a situation, when the danger passes, you feel just a weak as if you had fought or fled because the fact that you freeze does NOT mean that you have any less adrenaline pumping in your body, and the creation of the adrenaline is exhausting.
 
  • #4
Borek
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It is not just people that freeze, other animals do that as well.
 
  • #5
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I understand why an instinct to be still and quiet would helpful but why should it be accompanied by an inability to think clearly and act decisively? Wouldn't it be more helpful to think and decide that the best idea is to be still and quiet, that way if the tiger finds you and there is no longer a question hiding you would have the ability to flee.
 
  • #6
Pythagorean
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Nature doesn't find the global optimum, just a solution. The mechanism of the freezing is like a break on the system to stop impulsive behavior immediately. It probably doesnt have much regard for thinking because much behavior, even in humans, is based on conditioning and instinct, not intellectualized strategic processes.

If the behavior is enough to give an advantage in survival, then the trait has a chance to be selected,. Apparently thinking wasn't necessary for freezing behavior to be advantageous.
 
  • #7
256bits
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I agree w/ alephzero, and would add that the standard designations of "fight or flight" as natural responses really should be "fight or flight or freeze". Anecdotally, I have it that if you freeze in such a situation, when the danger passes, you feel just a weak as if you had fought or fled because the fact that you freeze does NOT mean that you have any less adrenaline pumping in your body, and the creation of the adrenaline is exhausting.
Haven't you heard?
It is Fight, Flight, Freeze, Fright, Faint
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15337864
 
  • #8
256bits
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Nature doesn't find the global optimum, just a solution. The mechanism of the freezing is like a break on the system to stop impulsive behavior immediately. It probably doesnt have much regard for thinking because much behavior, even in humans, is based on conditioning and instinct, not intellectualized strategic processes.

If the behavior is enough to give an advantage in survival, then the trait has a chance to be selected,. Apparently thinking wasn't necessary for freezing behavior to be advantageous.
So how long is the immobile freezing and how predominant in a situation of surprise.

I would propose that if when encountering a situation the mental faculties are still working and have not shut down but are attempting to come up with a workaround and best solution of survival, based upon seaching for a similar past experiences of the individual, if any. Information overload may be part of the reason for an inability to formulate a plan of action. Rather than a means as a solution for survival I would tend to think it would have more to do with the physiological functioning of a human, rather than all mammals.

Does stop, look and listen need to included in the freeze technique as many animals display that tactic. A cat coming upon a dog in midstep will freeze motion but continue to observe, perhaps slowly backtrack, then skitter away, at which point the dog instintively will give chase.
 
  • #9
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I was thinking higher level. The cat behavior could be explained as behavioral without invoking higher thinking. But in truth, I don't know to what extent typical freezing involves inhibition of circuits and to what circuits or to what extent cat-dog system requires conscious thinking on the animal's behalf

Another consideration is that there could be a pathological side. Some members of a population may have a lower threshold for freezing or have more extreme freezing behavior that goes too far. If the OP happened to be one such person, or have witnessed one, there could be a different context for the question than we're imagining.
 
  • #10
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Could be that freezing sends a signal that the prey is not prepared to attempt an escape but is standing his/her ground preparing to fight.This might make any predator think twice.
 
  • #11
phinds
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Could be that freezing sends a signal that the prey is not prepared to attempt an escape but is standing his/her ground preparing to fight.This might make any predator think twice.
No, that's not what I have heard over the years. It's based on avoiding motion
 
  • #12
phinds
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Nature doesn't find the global optimum, just a solution. The mechanism of the freezing is like a break on the system to stop impulsive behavior immediately. It probably doesnt have much regard for thinking because much behavior, even in humans, is based on conditioning and instinct, not intellectualized strategic processes.

If the behavior is enough to give an advantage in survival, then the trait has a chance to be selected,. Apparently thinking wasn't necessary for freezing behavior to be advantageous.
Actually, the most successful organisms don't think about ANY of the "flight, fight, or freeze" responses, they just DO it. If you stop to think about it, you'll likely end up dead.

Similarly, things like martial arts are based on the same principle --- ACT, don't think. With years and years of daily practice, they blocks and counterstrikes become immediate. If you have to stop and think "oh, he's doing a downward knife chop to my neck. I'd better do a horizontal arm block" by the time you've thought it through, your neck is broken.
 

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