It’s a classic scene from any action or disaster movie: there’s an alien invasion, or a superhero showdown, or a tsunami, and everyone runs in different directions, screaming in full-blown panic. But that’s not usually the most realistic reaction people have to such situations.
Click start to play today’s Word Search, where phrases like “jaws of death” will have you assessing how you react in high-stress situations.
A 2017 report in the UK-based news website BBC found that most people are actually slow to move or do anything when the stakes are high. The most natural reaction, in fact, is to do nothing. But, what about people who are calm and collected, no matter what life throws at them, and who seem to know exactly what to do?
According to the American Psychology Association, our flight-or-fight reaction depends on not just how we’re wired, but what we’ve learned in the past, our exposure to stress in our lifetime, and our preconceived notions of danger. For instance, if you’re afraid of flying, you are likely to have a stronger reaction than others to the rocking and pitching of turbulence. But if you are faced with a fire, you might react differently and more proactively.
It all comes down to experience and training, according to an August 2019 report in the US-based business magazine Fast Company. Psychologists agree that to a certain extent, we can prepare for situations, and learn how to react so that when the time comes to take action, we aren’t frozen in place.
For instance, airline pilots go through rigorous training in crisis management because no matter how skilled they are, they need to fall back on a set of learned responses, checklists and systems when there is an emergency, without having to think too much about it. When seen from the point of a layman, the pilot could seem calm, but it’s not because they are born with it – it’s because they have reviewed the processes so many times, it’s become routine for them.