Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Nature vs Nurture: Fighting vs Fleeing

In a very interesting meditation on courage (The Mystery of Courage), Miller suggests that military theorists assume the fearfulness of men rather than their courage. He explains:
The fearful person is not just left to his biologically determined reflexes or to his own pathetic devices. Soldiers are trained, and what is training if not directly or indirectly a set of fear-management techniques? Training ... [is] grafting a new set of reflexes onto the more cowardly ones of flight and freeze that nature equipped us with from the start.
Nature is selfish. Nature only cares about an individual's survival. In the murderous campaign that was the Western Front in WWI, nature was screaming at the combatants to flee. Fleeing promoted survival, staying and fighting promoted anything but. The powers that be did not want their combatants to flee, rather they wanted them to stay and fight. How did they deal with nature's selfish survival instincts?

All activities associated with preparing a person to survive a violent encounter (military, law enforcement, correctional services, martial arts, self defence, combat sports, collectively 'survival activities') all deal with this issue. Many different ways have been developed to get their trainees to stay and fight when nature screams at them to flee. These ways can be better understood with an understanding of the survival process.

The 'survival process' is a term I use to refer to the mechanism that was selected for in nature because it conferred a survival advantage on an individual. A stimulus is appraised as being a threat (or not) which then elicits a subjective feeling and physiological response, and associated urge to act which may or may not result in a behaviour designed to deal with the initiating stimulus.

Flight behaviour is associated with the emotion of fear. Where can you intervene in the survival process in order to prevent the flight behaviour and promote the fight behaviour?

What are the options? (1) Impose will to fight despite fear-motivated flight. (2) Reduce the intensity of the fear feeling. (3) Override the fear feeling with another feeling. (4) Replace the fear feeling with another feeling. (5) Replace the fear feeling with no feeling at all.

What is the first thing you get from this analysis. All survival activities are concerned with the manipulation of the emotions of their trainees.

(1) Imposing will to fight despite fear. A uniquely human feature of emotion is that the feeling and its action tendency are decoupled from the behaviour. A stimulus may be appraised as a threat eliciting fear and an urge to flee, but we don't necessarily flee. Scherer refers to the decoupling of instinctive stimulus-response contingencies as providing a latency time during which to choose from a large repertoire of possible responses, but at the same time automatically preparing particular action tendencies to allow adaptive emergency responses. Trainees are not taught to manager their emotions per se, but the behaviour associated with the emotion by taking advantage of latency time.

(2) Reducing the intensity of the fear feeling can be managed in a number of ways. The tactics and techniques, and training thereof, are designed to increase the trainees resources and capabilities to deal with a threat. This affects the secondary appraisal in the appraisal process (see the No Fear post for details on the appraisal process). Even though the stimulus is appraised as a threat, the trainee believes they have the resources and abilities to successfully deal with that threat thereby reducing the fear feeling.

Stress training (e.g. stress inoculation training), which is training designed to counter stress effects aims at reducing fear in a number of ways. By providing information on stress effects and by exposing the trainee to stress environments and their effects, it reduces negative reactions (i.e. fear) by enhancing familiarity, predictability, and controllability.

Tactical breathing is designed to reduce the intensity of fear. It does so my intervening in the physiological component of the reactions which, due to the interconnectedness of all of the components in the survival process, reduces the intensity of the fear feeling.

(3) Override the fear feeling with another feeling. The tried and tested method of promoting the man-made concepts of honour and comradeship is designed to promote the feeling of dishonour and letting down your comrades as a greater fear then the fear elicited by the threat of injury or death by the enemy.

(4) Replace the feeling with another feeling. Women self defence often teaches turning fear into anger. Many survival activities adopt the same approach to replace fear with anger thereby replacing the flight tendency to a fight tendency.

A documentary on the killing of Osama Bin Laden contained comments by ex-Navy SEALs. One explained what the SEALs involved in the mission would have been feeling as they approached the target. He said when he went on missions, his body was coursing with adrenalin but no fear, never fear. The adrenalin tells us he is experiencing an emotion, but it's not fear. The primary appraisal of a stimulus can result in it being appraised as a threat or a challenge. Threat elicits fear, challenge elicits excitement. The Navy SEALs, and all special forces, are trained to appraise combat as a challenge thereby changing the primary appraisal and elicited feelings.

(5) The last post described the adoption of the Japanese Samurai of Zen Buddhism in order to change their primary appraisal of a threat. By studying Zen they changed their view of death and the value of their lives so that a physical threat was not seen as such thereby eliciting no emotion at all. Of course no emotion means no access to the survival benefits provided by nature.

If fearfulness is the assumption, and fear is considered deleterious to survival and combat performance, then there are many ways that have been developed to manipulate trainees' emotions to deal with fear by survival activities. The above is just a brief look at these ways.

1 comment:

Your comments make my work all the more relevant as I use them to direct my research and theorising. Thank you.