How we change what others think, feel, believe and do
When we perceive a significant threat to us, then our bodies get ready either for a fight to the death or a desperate flight from certain defeat by a clearly superior adversary.
Fight or flight effects include:
Unfortunately, we are historically too close to the original value of this primitive response for our systems to have evolved to a more appropriate use of it, and many of life’s stresses trigger this response. The surprises and shocks of modern living leave us in a permanent state of arousal that takes its toll on our bodies, as described by Hans Selye's General Adaptation Syndrome.
The effect also happens when a creative new idea makes us feel uncertain about things of which we previously were sure. The biochemical changes in our brain make us aggressive, fighting the new idea, or make us timid, fleeing from it.
A third alternative response which often comes before fight or flight is freezing. This is often used by prey as they seek not to be noticed by predators and is typified by the rabbit paralyzed by the headlights of an oncoming car.
Humans also will pause at signs of danger. By freezing, you also cut down on noise and visual change and so may hear or see things around you more clearly.
Freezing gives you time to assess the situation and, if necessary you may then take further action, including fighting or backing away.
Another automatic, unthinking reaction when faced with a sudden threat is to go into a 'shield' mode, for example cowering down and protecting the head by throwing arms over it. Turning away to use the back as a shield is also common.
When with a child or another person, the protection instinct may cause you to throw your body around them, pulling them in and literally becoming a 'human shield'.
Beyond shielding or perhaps as an extension of it, we will even sacrifice ourselves to help others, for example where a soldier 'takes the bullet' for a colleague.
When people are praised for being heroes, a common response is to say that they 'didn't think about it'. In other words, it was an automatic reaction to help others, even at the potential cost of one's own life. This willingness to sacrifice is an essential element of humanity and society, even if we never have to take this action.
Watch out for angry red faces, cold and clammy skin, signs of a dry mouth, increased breathing rates and jitteriness from activated muscles (in yourself, as well as others).
Also watch out for the various forms of coping that can be dysfunctional and contrary to behavior you are seeking to create. This can lead to a model of 'four Fs of reaction': fight, flight, freeze and 'Freud'.
When others are thus aroused, they are not thinking straight and can be manipulated. You may even want to provoke them into this state. They also may become aggressive and unpredictable, so on the other hand you may want to avoid getting them into this state!
If you get wound up yourself, stop. Get out. Use any excuse to go somewhere and calm down.
Cannon, Walter B. (1914) The emergency function of the adrenal medulla in pain and the major emotions. American Journal of Physiology 33: 356-372
Cannon, Walter B. (1932). The wisdom of the body, 2nd Edition, 1939, Norton Pubs, New York