Triple F

Published: Jan 24 , 2013
Author: Alan Smith

Following the Christmas break, you could be forgiven for thinking this stands for Fat, Flatulent and Fund-less. It is however the classic human response to stress, flight, fight or freeze as described by Dr Steve Peters in his excellent book, The Chimp Paradox.

Reading in recent news the report into  why our fingers and toes wrinkle when we spend too long in the bath, made me realize yet again what primitive creatures we really are.

For a long time, it was assumed that the wrinkles were simply the result of the skin swelling in water, but recent investigations have actually shown the furrows to be caused by the blood vessels constricting in reaction to the water, which in turn is a response controlled by the body's sympathetic nervous system.

That an active system of regulation is at work led scientists into thinking there must be some deeper evolutionary justification for the ridges. Turns out that the wrinkles improve our ability to grip items when our hands are wet which was the small evolutionary advantage to one set of our ancestors when searching for food along river banks. Not much use now of course.

Much of which is also true of the classic human response to stress, which made our forbears more likely to survive literally millions of years ago.

Consider primitive man walking across the savannah. A sudden sound, or a flash in the corner of his eye, would create a stress response. Should I run, stand and fight, or freeze and hope to remain unseen. Making the right choice quickly and instinctively could be the difference between life and death.

Rather like the finger wrinkle response, many of our stress filled situations today are hugely different yet our brain triggers similar synapses when we face them.

Imagine the difficult or competitive negotiation. Should I fight, take control, 'win'. Should I run away, avoid the conflict altogether so I can fight again another day. Or should I freeze, try to become invisible by switching sides or agreeing with their different point of view.

Or of course I could use my higher-level brain to over-ride the Chimp response and find more advanced consensus solutions.

That of course requires self-knowledge, skill and almost as importantly, practice.

Make 2013 a year of evolutionary thinking.


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Alan Smith
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