When the danger is far away, or at least not immediately imminent, the instinct is to freeze. When danger is approaching, the impulse is to run away. When escape is impossible, the response is to fight back. And when struggling is futile, the animal will become immobilized in the grip of fright. Although it doesn’t slide quite as smoothly off the tongue, a more accurate description than “fight or flight” would be “fight, freeze, flight, or fright” or, for short, “the four fs.”
“The worst-case scenario is what’s happening now.” Web comic xkcd succinctly sums up the state of the oil spill coverage on the news.
The reason human beings seem to care so little about mass suffering and death is precisely because the suffering is happening on a mass scale. The brain is simply not very good at grasping the implications of mass suffering. Americans would be far more likely to step forward if only a few people were suffering or a single person were in pain. Hokget did not draw our sympathies because we care more about dogs than people; she drew our sympathies because she was a single dog lost on the biggest ocean in the world. Our hidden brain — my term for a host of unconscious mental processes that subtly bias our judgment — shapes our compassion into a telescope. We are best able to respond when we are focused on a single victim. -the Hidden Brain by Shankar Vedantam
from the magazine The Week, 12/25/09 to 1/8/2010:
Feeling down sharpens your attention and makes you less gullible. …happiness…(removes) a layer of skepticism. …sadness “promotes information processing best suited to dealing with more demanding situations,” says psychologist Joseph Forgas.
Recessions may help us all live a little longer. When the economy tanks, people drink and eat less, sleep more, suffer fewer accidents, and live longer. Researchers found that americans were actually healthier during the Great Depression than they were in prosperous times immediately before and after…