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Effects of Sudden Fear

Review of medical literature on the effects of sudden fear or attack on the human mind and body. Does it support M. Tony Blauer’s concepts.


Dr Eric Levasseur, MD, CMFC, PDR Team member.


Abstract: This review was done by myself has a physician responsible for the education of health care workers in northern New Brunswick concerning the management of aggression by patients and PDR team member to see if the medical literature is in tune with Mr. Blauer’s extensive research and experience. I searched Medline and Psyclnfo plus the extensive Canadian Library of Family Medicine. I had a bit of trouble finding article that didn’t emphasize animal studies but found some that where very interesting. I took all the articles from 1993 and up in consideration and found 26 that were related in some way to the human mind and body’s response too sudden fear and or attack. None where specific to self-defense. All the articles I found supported M Blauer`s concepts and ideas about the important physiological changes that happens during these rare moments. They also clearly supported the idea that during sudden fear or attack the cognitive brain is bypassed and the stimuli elicits automatic visceral and skeletal movements characterized by rather invariant topographical features of fight or flight (the flinch).


Each individual is a complex supersystem, consisting of numerous interacting modular systems. The emotions, perception, cognition and action are processes or products of these complex systems. Current evidence suggests that emotions in this case; fear is composed of dissociable modules witches are 1) Neurohormonal processes, 2) Expressive behavior or neuromuscular activities and 3) Conscious Aspect or feeling state.


Here is a brief summary of the neurohormonal(1) components as many scientists theorize about today. The brain-stem central gray, thalamus, amygdala, hypothalamus, locus coeruleus, habenula, perirhinal cortex and neocortex are all involved. The amygdala seems to play a major role in processing stimulus information and activate an emotional or physical response without involving the neocortex and the cognitive functions subserved by it.  The brain-stem gray seems to control some fear-elicited motor response such as freezing. I’ve but gave you a brief overview of this complex system but the interesting thing about it are that we find that the root of the system is in phylogenetically old structures. This is consistent with the notions that they are a fundamental part of our evolutionary heritage and have inherently adaptive and survival functions. This completely supports the idea of a “Genetically inspired/Intuitively engineered” self-defense system.


The second module witch is the neuromuscular and sensory feedback component is also complex. This second component refers to central efferent commands and gross striated muscle activity generated by the neural evaluation processes. They include observable patterned gross body movements like facial expression, head-eye movements, posture, arm

movements, vocal expressions and muscle action potential. The central nervous system is implicated at this phase and the patterns can be somewhat modified but only by repeated exposure to high fear or high emotional situation. For example an electric shock is given and for the majority of men they will instinctively extend their arms if given a choice between extension and flexion. If every time they extend their arms they get another shock and when they flex them they don’t they will eventually flex them.  For the purpose of this article I will only talk about arm movements for the second module. The University of Paris did an interesting experiment in 2000 (following in Da Gloria footsteps/1984). Their findings showed that stimuli such as pain or fear automatically elicit patterns of terminal motor state corresponding to fight or flight, initiating processes of preparation of spatially oriented movements witch are automatic and sex-typed and impair the use of the terminal cues for simultaneous preprogrammed voluntary movements. This experience also showed that most men will respond with extension of the arms following an aversive stimulus but woman will respond with flexion in 50% of the time. This experiment also showed that if we tell the subjects to do the movement that is unnatural to them for example: tell men to flex their arms, their reaction time is considerably lengthened. To me these experiments support the S.P.E.A.R. concepts defined by M Blauer.


Only in the third module does the conscious aspect come into play. Here again we have multiple components witches are: motivation, action readiness, action tendency, biasing of perception, cues for cognition and action and the feeling state. Here again much of these are covered in M. Blauer`s system. The fear feeling in evolutionary perspective motivates self-protecting behaviors. The potency of the fear feeling dominates all functional systems. It tends to eliminate all parts of the perceptual fields that don’t serve the fight or flight response; it generates cognitive bias and reduces working memory. If we want fear feelings to have an adaptive effect we need to have appropriate connection lines among emotions, cognition and action system. This is well covered in M. Blauer’s system of self-defense.


My review of the medical literature showed that while the studies where not done for self-defense in particular but rather to look at the effects of sudden fear or aversive stimuli on the human mind and body they found concepts that are described in M. Blauer`s system. It seems his concepts are reproducible in different discipline and are universally valid. 





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