Humankind has been able to survive many shifts in its environment throughout the centuries. The ability to adapt physically and mentally to a changing world kept humans alive while other species gradually died off. The same survival mechanisms that kept our forefathers alive can help keep us alive as well! However, these survival mechanisms that can help us can also work against us if we don’t understand and anticipate their presence. It is not surprising that the average person will have some psychological reactions in a survival situation. We will now examine some of the major internal reactions you and anyone with you might experience with the survival stressors addressed in the earlier paragraphs. Let’s begin.
Fear is our emotional response to dangerous circumstances that we believe have the potential to cause death, injury or illness. This harm is not just limited to physical damage; the threat to one’s emotional and mental well-being can generate fear as well. For the person trying to survive, fear can have a positive function if it encourages him to be cautious in situations where recklessness could result in injury. Unfortunately, fear can also immobilize a person. It can cause him to become so frightened that he fails to perform activities essential for survival. Most of us will have some degree of fear when placed in unfamiliar surroundings under adverse conditions. There is no shame in this! Each individual must train himself not to be overcome by his fears. Ideally, through realistic training, we can acquire the knowledge and skills needed to increase our confidence and thereby manage our fears.
Associated with fear is anxiety. Because it is natural for us to be afraid, it is also natural for us to experience anxiety. Anxiety can be an uneasy, apprehensive feeling we get when faced with dangerous situations (physical, mental and emotional). When used in a healthy way, anxiety urges us to act to end, or at least master, the dangers that threaten our existence. If we were never anxious, there would be little motivation to make changes in our lives. The person in a survival setting reduces his anxiety by performing those tasks that will ensure his coming through the ordeal alive. As he reduces his anxiety, the person is also bringing under control the source of that anxiety — his fears. In this form, anxiety is good; however, anxiety can also have a devastating impact. Anxiety can overwhelm a person to the point where he becomes easily confused and has difficulty thinking. Once this happens, it becomes more and more difficult for him to make good judgments and sound decisions. To survive, the individual must learn techniques to calm his anxieties and keep them in the range where they help, not hurt.
ANGER + FRUSTRATION
Frustration arises when a person is continually thwarted in his attempts to reach a goal. The goal of survival is to stay alive until you can reach help or until help can reach you. To achieve this goal, the person must complete some tasks with minimal resources. It is inevitable, in trying to do these tasks, that something will go wrong; that something will happen beyond the survivor’s control; and that with one’s life at stake, every mistake is magnified in terms of its importance. Thus, sooner or later, survivors will have to cope with frustration when a few of their plans run into trouble. One outgrowth of this frustration is anger. There are many events in a survival situation that can frustrate or anger a person. Getting lost, damaged or forgotten equipment, the weather, inhospitable terrain, enemy patrols and physical limitations are just a few sources of frustration and anger. Frustration and anger encourage impulsive reactions, irrational behavior, poorly thought-out decisions and, in some instances, an “I quit” attitude (people sometimes avoid doing something they can’t master). If the person can harness and properly channel the emotional intensity associated with anger and frustration, he can productively act as he answers the challenges of survival. If the person does not properly focus his angry feelings, he can waste much energy in activities that do little to further either his chances of survival or the chances of those around him.
It would be a rare person indeed who would not get sad, at least momentarily, when faced with the privations of survival. As this sadness deepens, we label the feeling “depression.” Depression is closely linked with frustration and anger. The frustrated person becomes more and more angry as he fails to reach his goals. If the anger does not help the person to succeed, then the frustration level goes even higher. A destructive cycle between anger and frustration continues until the person becomes worn down — physically, emotionally and mentally. When a person reaches this point, he starts to give up and his focus shifts from “What can I do” to “There is nothing I can do.” Depression is an expression of this hopeless, helpless feeling. There is nothing wrong with being sad as you temporarily think about your loved ones and remember what life is like back in “civilization” or “the world.” Such thoughts, in fact, can give you the desire to try harder and live one more day. On the other hand, if you allow yourself to sink into a depressed state, then it can sap all your energy and, more important, your will to survive. It is imperative that each individual resist succumbing to depression.
LONELINESS + BOREDOM
Humans are social animals. This means we, as human beings, enjoy the company of others. Very few people want to be alone all the time! As you are aware, there is a distinct chance of isolation in a survival setting. This is not bad. Loneliness and boredom can bring to the surface qualities you thought only others had. The extent of your imagination and creativity may surprise you. When required to do so, you may discover some hidden talents and abilities. Most of all, you may tap into a reservoir of inner strength and fortitude you never knew you had. Conversely, loneliness and boredom can be another source of depression. As a person surviving alone, or with others, you must find ways to keep your mind productively occupied. Additionally, you must develop a degree of self-sufficiency. You must have faith in your capability to “go it alone.”
The circumstances leading to your being in a survival setting are sometimes dramatic and tragic. It may be the result of an accident or military mission where there was a loss of life. Perhaps you were the only, or one of a few, survivors. While naturally relieved to be alive, you simultaneously may be mourning the deaths of others who were less fortunate. It is not uncommon for survivors to feel guilty about being spared from death while others were not. This feeling, when used in a positive way, has encouraged people to try harder to survive with the belief they were allowed to live for some greater purpose in life. Sometimes, survivors tried to stay alive so that they could carry on the work of those killed. Whatever reason you give yourself, do not let guilt feelings prevent you from living. The living who abandon their chance to survive accomplish nothing. Such an act would be the greatest tragedy.
SELF-PRESERVATION AND HUMANS
...humans desire personal survival; seek food, drink, rest, sex; fit into niches; must adapt to changing conditions.
Humans are subject to the same stimuli and reactions as any other animal. Hunger, thirst, asphyxiation, fear, and exhaustion are physical sensations that cause instinctive physical reactions. Most of these reactions are unpleasant, and people avoid the stimuli that cause them, or, if they're unavoidable, take actions to reduce them. Thus you eat when hungry, drink when thirsty, fight for air, run from dangerous situations, sleep. In any case, the reactions are good in that they tell you you're in a situation that could result in injury or death. These responses are instinctive, and we have no more control over them than we do over our eye color.
Even more, humans can alter rather than merely adapt to the environments in which we find ourselves to enhance our chances for survival. The invention of agriculture and the domestication of animals improved the food supply; the building of dwellings enhanced shelter from the elements; science and medicine have greatly increased human lifespan and the quality of that life. Human ingenuity has altered every aspect of the world to enhance the human life.
However, humans live in an extremely complex society. Thus, self-preservation is a much more complicated proposition than among other animals. Eating to satisfy hunger is more than just finding proper vegetation or hunting; shelter for rest and recuperation is more than finding a convenient cave or nest; avoiding predators is difficult because it is often hard if not impossible to tell what is a predator (the only real predators on humans are other humans). Even avoiding dangerous situations (such as car crashes) is difficult because of human technology. Things can happen so quickly danger isn't apparent until it's too late to do anything about it.
Like hunter-gatherers in the jungle, modern humans are still experts at spotting predators and prey, despite the developed world's safe suburbs and indoor lifestyle, a new study suggests.
The research, published online this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, reveals that humans today are hard-wired to pay attention to other people and animals much more so than non-living things, even if inanimate objects are the primary hazards for modern, urbanized folks.
The researchers say the finding supports the idea that natural selection molded mechanisms into our ancestors' brains that were specialized for paying attention to humans and other animals. These adaptive traits were then passed on to us.
"We're assuming that natural selection takes a long time to build anything anew and that's why this is left over from our past," said study team member Leda Cosmides, an evolutionary psychologist at the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB).
Immersed in a rich, biotic environment, it would have been imperative for our ancestors to monitor both humans and non-human animals. Predators and prey took many different forms—lions, tigers and bears—and they changed often, so constant eyeballing was critical.
While the environment has changed since then, with high-rises emerging where forests once took root and pampered pets taking the place of stalking beasts, our instinct-driven attention has not followed suit.
"Having this pop-out attentional bias for animals is sort of a vestigial behavior," said study team member Joshua New of Yale University's Perception and Cognition Lab.
In the study, groups of undergraduate students from UCSB, watched images displayed on computer monitors. The flashing images alternated between pairs of various outdoor scenes, with the first image showing one scene and the next an alternate version of that scene with one change. Participants indicated each time whether they detected a change.
The photographs included animate categories, such as people and other animals, as well as inanimate ones, such as plants, artifacts that can be manipulated (stapler or wheelbarrow) and fixed artifacts, such as landmarks (windmill or house).
Overall, the subjects were faster and more accurate at detecting changes involving all animals compared with inanimate objects. They correctly detected nearly 90 percent of the changes to "living" targets compared with 66 percent for inanimate objects.
In particular, the students spotted changes in elephant and human scenes 100 percent of the time, while they had a success rate of just over 75 percent for photos showing a silo and 67 percent for those with a coffee mug.
Though we are more likely to meet death via an SUV than a charging wildebeest, the results indicated subjects were slower and less successful at detecting changes to vehicles than to animals.
The researchers compare our attentional bias toward animals to the appendix, an organ present in modern humans because it was useful for our ancestors, but useless now.
These results have implications for phobias and other behaviors that involve focus toward specific categories of objects over others.
"People develop phobias for spiders and snakes and things that were ancestral threats. It's very infrequent to have somebody afraid of cars or electrical outlets," New told LiveScience. "Those statistically pose much more of a threat to us than a tiger. That makes it an interesting test case as to why do tigers still capture attention."