Fight, Flight and Freeze. How Jurassic Park Illustrates the Three Responses to Danger
My wife and I recently attended the South Dakota Symphony Orchestra's presentation of composer John William's soundtrack for the 1993 motion picture Jurassic Park. While the movie played on a large screen above them, the orchestra performed the soundtrack in perfect synchronicity.
Jurassic Park was my four year old son's favorite movie and it brought back memories of the countless times I was required to watch it as he sat on the floor of the living room while loosely recreating the scenes on the screen with his myriad toy dinosaurs.
Although this epic movie could be considered frightening to many, my son never felt even the slightest amount of fear because he knew dinosaurs were no longer alive. As I watched the original Jurassic Park for the first time in probably two decades, I took mental note of how some of the characters responded to the impending threat of the vicious T-Rex and those cunning velociraptors.
How We Commonly Respond to Imminent Danger
Also known as hyper-arousal, the physiological reaction to a perceived threat is often said to include two responses: fight or flight. There is actually a third common response, which is to freeze. In the Jurassic Park movies the characters have almost always responded in one of the following ways:
1. The Fight Response - The grandchildren of the park's creator try to flee the hunting velociraptors in a restaurant kitchen. When faced with no way to escape the charging velociraptor, the young granddaughter, Lex, outwits it by closing the predator's head into the freezer door and locking it in cold storage in order to save her brother.
The fight response is the impulse to protect yourself or others. Some people's first response is to fight while others will attempt to escape a dangerous situations. The latter is known as...
2. The Flight Response - Of course in Jurassic Park, the most common reaction to being confronted by a hungry dinosaur is to run away. Unfortunately for some of the characters in the movie this didn't work all that well.
Simply put, the flight response causes a person to run from impending danger. Whether it is to avoid becoming dinosaur kibble or to flee from the gun shots of an active shooter, the flight response is a basic natural reaction that, without conditioning and training (such as law enforcement, military, et al.), is often uncontrollable.
If you do not respond to a traumatic situation by fighting or running away, you may also behave by exhibiting...
3. The Freeze Response - To cope with a situation that entirely overwhelms a person's senses, they may find that the danger causing external stimuli is too much for the brain to process and instead of engaging the threat in a combative way or fleeing, a person simply freezes in place, unable to move or think about what must be done to respond to the threat. Before the children's escape into the kitchen, they are seen voraciously eating everything on the desert table in the dining room. That is until the young heroine freezes mid bite into her jello when she suddenly realizes she and her brother are being hunted by those pesky velociraptors.
In the same way, a person hearing thunderous gunshots in their workplace may cause them to freeze in place, unable to react to the overwhelming foreign element.
The fact is that most people will not know how they respond until presented with a situation that elicits the fight/flight/freeze mechanism. In the case of a possible active shooter incident, training drills can help most people prepare for the worst case scenario and mitigate the havoc caused by the active shooter.
Nathan Fredrickson is a private investigator and partner with EPI Investigations & Risk Management based in Sioux Falls, SD. His scope of of investigative service includes corporate fraud and background investigations, covert surveillance, risk management, OSHA compliance, and training in the areas of disaster preparedness, active shooter preparedness, situational awareness and de escalation of workplace violence.