Thursday, May 31, 2012

The Missing "F" Word.....

(This post by Hans van Beuge)

Fight or Flight. We have all heard that mantra before.  It’s a quick and catchy alliteration used to describe the autonomic nervous systems response to sudden danger.

Dr. Walter Canon, an American Professor of Physiology, coined the phrase back in 1929 to describe what happens when mammals are faced with sudden threats.

The only problem with Dr. Canon’s theory was that he left out another “F- word” in the autonomic response to fright. FREEZE.

Anyone who has experienced/studied/observed violence intuitively knows that we must include Flight, Freeze or Fight as being an additional reaction or part of the continuum, when sudden danger presents.

In a 2004 Issue of the American Journal of Psychiatry, 5 eminent Psychiatrists petitioned their peers to change the Fight or Flight mantra to “Freeze, Flight, Fight and Fright” believing this better characterizes the ordered sequence of responses that mammals exhibit as a threat approaches or escalates.

A Close Quarter Protection training doctrine can probably function with just the first three ‘F’s being Freeze, Flight or Fight.  The fourth ‘F’ of fright being more relevant to the psychiatric profession dealing with posttraumatic stress syndromes.

Any training regime for Protectors that doesn’t address the potential for these autonomic responses to kick in is inadequate. They can cause a massive under-reaction, over-reaction or non–reaction in the moment of crisis.

During the Kennedy assassination in 1963, only one of the PSD Agents reacted to the gunshots.  The driver of the Presidential limo actually froze, and braked at the sounds of the shots causing the shooter to get a near stationary target for the last fatal head shot.

Survival Psychologists say that up to 80% of people freeze or under-react when presented with violence.  They just become stunned and bewildered.

The term used is “Incredulity Response”.  It’s why very few people become involved in helping out victims in incidences of street violence.

The US Secret Service, through proper training and conditioning, addressed these issues, and by the time of President Reagans near assassination in 1980 the PSD responded appropriately with incendiary speed. 

A case of “Flight” over-riding an appropriate response could be seen in the recent evacuation of the Australian Prime Minister, from a venue, where a handful of protesters had assembled outside.

Her protection team over-reacted and fled the building, nearly injuring the PM in the process and causing major embarrassment.

It is clearly plain to see the level of panic and stress visible on the officer’s faces though no threat is present.

It is evident that any training doctrine must include addressing the element of “freezing” when facing a critical incident.

Solutions could include : Hyper-realism training that conditions effective sudden "fight" responses from ambush and surprise ; training in orderly evacuations ; fear inoculation training ; and developing an understanding of Fear Management concepts.      


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