Fight-or-flight response (in humans)
- For fight-or-flight response in animals see fight-or-flight response (in animals)
The fight-or-flight response (also called the fight, flight, freeze, or fawn response [in PTSD], hyperarousal, or the acute stress response) is a physiological reaction that occurs in response to a perceived harmful event, attack, or threat to survival. It was first described by Walter Bradford Cannon.[a] His theory states that animals react to threats with a general discharge of the sympathetic nervous system, priming the animal for fighting or fleeing. More specifically, the adrenal medulla produces a hormonal cascade that results in the secretion of catecholamines, especially norepinephrine and epinephrine. Amit Sood, Professor of Medicine at Mayo Clinic College of Medicine discusses the classic fight or flight response and states that estrogen and testosterone are also hormones that affect how we react to stress, as are the neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin.
- 1 Physiology
- 2 Emotional components
- 3 Cognitive components
- 4 Workplace bullying
- 5 See also
- 6 Notes
- 7 References
- 8 Further reading
Autonomic nervous system
The autonomic nervous system is a control system that acts largely unconsciously and regulates heart rate, digestion, respiratory rate, pupillary response, urination, and sexual arousal. This system is the primary mechanism in control of the fight-or-flight response and its role is mediated by two different components.
Sympathetic nervous system
The sympathetic nervous system originates in the spinal cord and its main function is to activate the physiological changes that occur during the fight or flight response. This component of the autonomic nervous system utilizes and activates the release of norepinephrine in the reaction.
Parasympathetic nervous system
The parasympathetic nervous system originates in the spinal cord and medulla and works in concert with the sympathetic nervous system. Its main function is to activate the "rest and digest" response and return the body to homeostasis after the fight or flight response. This system utilizes and activates the release of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine.
The reaction begins in the amygdala, which triggers a neural response in the hypothalamus. The initial reaction is followed by activation of the pituitary gland and secretion of the hormone ACTH. The adrenal gland is activated almost simultaneously and releases the neurotransmitter epinephrine. The release of chemical messengers results in the production of the hormone cortisol, which increases blood pressure, blood sugar, and suppresses the immune system. The initial response and subsequent reactions are triggered in an effort to create a boost of energy. This boost of energy is activated by epinephrine binding to liver cells and the subsequent production of glucose. Additionally, the circulation of cortisol functions to turn fatty acids into available energy, which prepares muscles throughout the body for response. Catecholamine hormones, such as adrenaline (epinephrine) or noradrenaline (norepinephrine), facilitate immediate physical reactions associated with a preparation for violent muscular action. These include the following:
- Acceleration of heart and lung action
- Paling or flushing, or alternating between both
- Inhibition of stomach and upper-intestinal action to the point where digestion slows down or stops
- General effect on the sphincters of the body
- Constriction of blood vessels in many parts of the body
- Liberation of metabolic energy sources (particularly fat and glycogen) for muscular action
- Dilation of blood vessels for muscles
- Inhibition of the lacrimal gland (responsible for tear production) and salivation
- Dilation of pupil (mydriasis)
- Relaxation of bladder
- Inhibition of erection
- Auditory exclusion (loss of hearing)
- Tunnel vision (loss of peripheral vision)
- Disinhibition of spinal reflexes
Function of physiological changes
The physiological changes that occur during the fight or flight response are activated in order to give the body increased strength and speed in anticipation of fighting or running. Some of the specific physiological changes and their functions include:
- Increased blood flow to the muscles activated by diverting blood flow from other parts of the body.
- Increased blood pressure, heart rate, blood sugars, and fats in order to supply the body with extra energy.
- The blood clotting function of the body speeds up in order to prevent excessive blood loss in the event of an injury sustained during the response.
- Increased muscle tension in order to provide the body with extra speed and strength.
During the reaction, the intensity of emotion that is brought on by the stimulus will also determine the nature and intensity of the behavioral response. Individuals with higher levels of emotional reactivity may be prone to anxiety and aggression, which illustrates the implications of appropriate emotional reaction in the fight or flight response.
The specific components of cognitions in the fight or flight response seem to be largely negative. These negative cognitions may be characterized by: attention to negative stimuli, the perception of ambiguous situations as negative, and the recurrence of recalling negative words. There also may be specific negative thoughts associated with emotions commonly seen in the reaction.
Perception of control
Perceived control relates to an individual's thoughts about control over situations and events. Perceived control should be differentiated from actual control because an individual's beliefs about their abilities may not reflect their actual abilities. Therefore, overestimation or underestimation of perceived control can lead to anxiety and aggression.
Social information processing
The social information processing model proposes a variety of factors that determine behavior in the context of social situations and preexisting thoughts. The attribution of hostility, especially in ambiguous situations, seems to be one of the most important cognitive factors associated with the fight or flight response because of its implications towards aggression.
The most typical reactions to workplace bullying are to do with the survival instinct - “fight or flight” - and these are probably a victim’s healthier responses to bullying. Flight is a legitimate and valid response to bullying. It is very common, especially in organizations in which upper management cannot or will not deal with the bullying. In hard economic times, however, flight may not be an option, and fighting may be the only choice.
Fighting the bullying can require near heroic action, especially if the bullying targets just one or two individuals. It can also be a difficult challenge. There are some times when confrontation is called for. First, there is always a chance that the bully boss is laboring under the impression that this is the way to get things done and does not recognize the havoc being wreaked on subordinates.
- Hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal axis
- Coping (psychology)
- Defense physiology
- Emotional dysregulation
- Escape distance
- The Relaxation Response
- Rest and digest
- Yerkes–Dodson law
- Some references say he first described the response in 1914 in The American Journal of Physiology. Others in the 1915 edition of Bodily Changes in Pain, Hunger, Fear and Rage. Other sources say that he first used the term in 1929 or in 1932 edition of the same book. The issue needs further research.
- Cannon, Walter (1932). Wisdom of the Body. United States: W.W. Norton & Company. ISBN 0393002055.
- Walter Bradford Cannon (1929). Bodily changes in pain, hunger, fear, and rage. New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts.
- Jansen, A; Nguyen, X; Karpitsky, V; Mettenleiter, M (27 October 1995). "Central Command Neurons of the Sympathetic Nervous System: Basis of the Fight-or-Flight Response". Science Magazine 5236 (270).
- Walter Bradford Cannon (1915). Bodily Changes in Pain, Hunger, Fear and Rage: An Account of Recent Researches into the Function of Emotional Excitement. Appleton-Century-Crofts.
- "Adrenaline, Cortisol, Norepinephrine: The Three Major Stress Hormones, Explained". Hufflington Post. April 19, 2014. Retrieved 16 August 2014.
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- Chudler, Eric. "Neuroscience For Kids". University of Washington. Retrieved 19 April 2013.
- Margioris, Andrew; Tsatsanis, Christos (April 2011). "ACTH Action on the Adrenal". Endotext.org. Retrieved 18 April 2013.
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- "HOW CELLS COMMUNICATE DURING THE FIGHT OR FLIGHT RESPONSE". University of Utah. Retrieved 18 April 2013.
- Henry Gleitman, Alan J. Fridlund and Daniel Reisberg (2004). Psychology (6 ed.). W. W. Norton & Company. ISBN 0-393-97767-6.
- Stress Management for Health Course. "The Fight Flight Response". Retrieved 19 April 2013.
- Olpin, Michael. "The Science of Stress". Weber State University.
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- Crick, Nicki; Dodge, Kenneth (January 1994). "A review and reformulation of social information-processing mechanisms in children's social adjustment". Psychological Bulletin 115 (1): 74–101. doi:10.1037/0033-2909.115.1.74.
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- Robert Killoren (2014) The Toll of Workplace Bullying - Research Management Review, Volume 20, Number 1
- Sapolsky, Robert M., 1994. Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers. W.H. Freeman and Company.
- This article incorporates public domain material from the United States Government document "http://www.surgeongeneral.gov/library/mentalhealth/chapter4/sec2_1.html".