Dramatic cell phone video captures the brain’s threat detection and response in action when a young girl sitting on the edge of a wharf is suddenly dragged into the water by a sea lion. Like a bolt of lightning a bystander instantly leaps into the murky water to rescue the child from the jaws of the agile marine mammal attacking the helpless girl. This incident is a dramatic example of how our brain is wired to react instantly and aggressively in response to certain specific triggers, which activate distinct neural circuits in the brain’s threat detection mechanism, and to do it without any conscious deliberation. Whether this selfless aggressive response was launched by the F or the T trigger in the LIFEMORTS mnemonic depends on whether the hero in this case was a family member or a stranger, but this information is not yet known.
Regardless, the man acted without a moment’s hesitation and he saved the girl. Imagine the amount of rapid calculation that was performed unconsciously, setting this man on a definitive course to take on the beast with violent aggression if necessary: Should I jump in? Head-first/feet first? Wait for someone else to help? Call for help? Grab a pole or a rope to throw to the girl? Maybe she will escape by herself? What will I do when I encounter the sea lion face-to-face? Are their underwater hazards that I could hit if I jump in? Are there dangerous currents? Should I remove my shoes. . .?
It took you longer to read this string of questions–let alone answer them–than it took this gentleman to act. This is why the brain’s threat detection circuitry is located in a part of the brain beneath the cerebral cortex where consciousness arises. Conscious deliberation would be too slow.
Why did this man act when no one else did? Others screamed, froze, or watched in horror. In a flash this man risked his life and limb and committed to go against the sea lion tooth and nail, bare handed, to fight an animal with jaws that can crush bones and battles great white sharks as its usual adversary. Such questions are considered in my book, Why We Snap, but this is a wonderful example of the neural circuitry of snapping working as intended, even though it does sometimes misfire with regrettable consequences.
One interesting question is this: If this hero was a stranger, what are the odds that the rescuer would be male? The answer is 9 to 1.
Photo credit: https://pixabay.com/p-1566874/?no_redirect