Ready response. An emergency reaction in which the body prepares for combat or escape from potentially dangerous situations, animals, or people.
Usage: Many nonverbal
signs (e.g., dilated pupils, sweaty
palms, bristling hair [piloerection], and a faster breathing
rate--along with squaring the
torso for battle or angling
away to prepare for flight) are visible in stepped-up visceral
feelings and body movements of the fight-or-flight
Evolution. Fight-or-flight is an ancient sympathetic response pattern which, in the aquatic brain, accelerated heartbeat rate, raised blood-sugar level, and released hormones from the adrenal gland, preparing an alarmed fish to chase-and-bite, or to turn-tail-and-flee.
Facial color. Also called the "fight, fright or flight" response, the sympathetic nervous system may telegraph its state of mind in the whiteness (i.e., pallor) or redness (flushing) of the face. Pallor, associated with extreme fear or anger (rage), is caused by vasoconstriction of the facial blood vessels, brought on by the release of large amounts of adrenaline and noradrenaline. Associated with embarrassment or slight-to-moderate anger, a flushed face (which may begin with a faint blush at the top of the ears) is caused by vasodilation of the facial blood vessels, due to adrenaline. (N.B.: Currently, the physiological differences between fear and anger are not well understood.)
Observation. Fight-or-flight cues (see, e.g., CUT-OFF, EYE-BLINK, EYEBROW-RAISE, FACIAL FLUSHING, FLASHBULB EYES, and HAND-BEHIND-HEAD) are visible not only in warfare and physical combat, but also in corporate meetings around a conference table.
Waiting. Human beings are easily angered when they are kept waiting in airline terminals, hospital emergency rooms, and heavy traffic. As adrenaline and noradrenaline levels rise, flyers, patients, and commuters may be more prone to aggression and violence than when permitted to move freely about. (N.B.: In England, more nurses are attacked in emergency departments than in psychiatric wards.)
Neuro-notes. 1. In the 1920s, physiologist Walter
B. Cannon identified the sympathetic nervous system's emergency
reaction, which prepared the body to exert high levels of physical energy
(Cannon 1929). 2. In the 1930s, while stimulating regions of
the hypothalamus of the cat, physiologist W. R. Hess
identified the defense reaction, which included tendencies to fight or
flee. 3. The fight-or-flight response is coordinated by central
command neurons in the hypothalamus and brain stem which "regulate the
sympathetic outflow of both the stellate ganglion and the adrenal gland" (Jansen
et al. 1995:644). 4. ". . . the threshold for release of noradrenaline
[the 'anger hormone'] to psychological stimuli is generally higher than that of
adrenaline [the 'fear hormone']" (Mayes 1979:37).
Antonym: REST-AND-DIGEST. See also FREEZE REACTION.
Copyright 1999 - 2016 (David B. Givens/Center for Nonverbal Studies)
Photo of Canada geese in flight (Spokane, Washington, USA) by Doreen K. Givens (copyright 2007)