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Saturday, July 3, 2010

On Reactions to Immediate Danger

Now that July 4th and all its firework displays are upon us, I remember a near-disaster that occurred at a fireworks show I was at last year.  I was away from home, and I went to go see fireworks at a nearby college.  The area where the fireworks were being launched was roped off, but the area was a little small.  When evening came, the fireworks were lit, and everyone was enjoying the display.  Out of nowhere, however, a lit firework spun around in the air and landed on the ground about 15 feet away from me.  It had yet to explode, and everyone was apprehensive.  I say apprehensive and not scared because no one seemed to be moving - they were all frozen.  I personally ducked down because there was not much for me to do at that point, but everyone else just stood there staring. Luckily the firework just fizzed out and never went off, and a serious situation was avoided.

Nevertheless, why were people simply staring and not trying to find some sort of cover?  They all recognized the immediate danger, but none of them made any effort to place themselves out of the danger.  I read an article a few years ago about this very topic.  I have never been in a disaster situation, thank God, but according to the article, people normally do not run around screaming in the face of imminent danger.  Instead, they freeze and do not know what to do. The article cited an example of a ferry boat that sank in the Black Sea a number of years ago.  When the boat started sinking, people did not try to escape or get to higher ground.  One survivor explained how everyone around him seemed to be paralyzed with fear.  He calmly made his way to a lifeboat and escaped.  The people who simply froze unfortunately perished along with over 1000 other passengers.  According to this man, many more would have survived had they simply moved and fought through the panic.

I bring this up because I find this to be a paradoxical aspect of human nature.  Normally we think of the "fight or flight" adrenaline response, but this is neither.  It's simply staying put and doing nothing, and I think people need to recognize this flaw if, for whatever reason (and I'm not trying to scare people), they ever find themselves in a disaster scenario.

1 comment:

  1. sounds like a natural selection kind of thing. those who acted calmly on the boat (the flight response that is supposed to be part of our natural programming) were able to survive. Those who panicked and froze, lacking the important fight or flight response, could not survive due to the lack of a proper response to an impending stimulus