Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Smelling Fear

Fear is a major factor in activities associated with preparing a person to survive a violent encounter (e.g. martial arts, self-defence, combat sports, law enforcement, military).

Ways and means are developed to counter the effects of fear in ourselves while instilling it in others.

Stress training, such as stress inoculation training, is increasingly being used by law enforcement and the military to better prepare their personnel for operational deployment. Stress training is designed to counter the effects of stress on performance. There are three stages to stress training with the first being an informational stage where the trainee is provided with information on stress, stress symptoms, and the effects of stress on performance. The first question is, what is stress?

Hans Selye, the father of stress theory, famously said that everybody knows what stress is, but nobody really knows. I know.

With stress training, stress is basically anxiety-fear. Anxiety and fear are related with the latter having an object whereas the former does not. Stress training is actually anxiety-fear training and would be enhanced if the focus was on anxiety-fear and not the ambiguous concept of stress.

Thus, we in the abovementioned activities should study anxiety-fear if we are to manage it in ourselves and others during a violent encounter.

That is a big part of the book that I'm writing about our survival process and how all the methods developed by the above activities are actually interventions in that process.

This article is about a study that suggests that we can smell fear. This should come as no surprise when you understand that emotion involves appraisal, feeling, physiological, impulses to action, and behavioural components.

A physiological reaction that is unique to a specific emotion is experienced which prepares the body to enact the behaviour that the subjective feeling motivates. The physiological reaction has been described as a 'hormonal cascade' so it makes sense that these fear hormones would be secreted in a person's sweat when sweating from fear.

 There was a behavioural effect of the fearful sweat. It improved the volunteers' awareness and vigilance. They became 43 per cent more accurate in judging if another person's face was neutral or threatening.

 This also comes as no surprise when you look at our fight-or-flight/stress/emotion mechanism from it's evolutionary function perspective - survival. Experiencing a negative emotion such as anxiety, fear, or anger generates a physiological reaction that prepares the body to fight or flee. The effects of this hormonal cascade is increased strength, speed, endurance, and pain tolerance.

It also increases cognitive abilities (above) which is only to be expected given its evolutionary function of promoting and individual's survival.

This leads to an interesting question for survival activities. Do you train for an emotion or not? Most martial arts would suggest they train to fight without an emotion. Cprl Ben Roberts-Smith suggested training for no emotion because emotion clouds judgement. The price you pay for no emotion is no increased, strength, speed, endurance, pain tolerance, and now awareness and vigilance.

If you train for an emotion to gain those benefits, which emotion do you train for? Do you want to eliminate fear entirely or do you want to train for anther emotion, such as anger which many women's self defence courses teach. They are not alone. The beserker tradition has been used across many cultures and continents for centuries to prepare a person for war. They train for rage not anger to promote fight behaviour and to counter fear.

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