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Published by: Dr Dushyant Kamal Dhari on Sep 06, 2012
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It has long been recognized and was elucidated by Charles Darwin that an

organism’s fight-or-flight reaction in response to an immediate threat serves

the function of preserving the life of the individual. Darwin further suggests

that the survival of the fittest occurs because of the inborn capacity to respond

in such a manner. This enables the evolution of species. As one looks at the

physiological changes that occur with the fight-or-flight response, it becomes

clear that these changes are designed to do exactly that: preserve the individu-

al’s life. As we will discuss in more depth later, the changes that occur in the

body all contribute to the mobilization of the organism to flee or stand and

fight the threat. In addition, the more severe response of fainting, and its si-

multaneous drop in blood pressure, enables the animal or human to appear

dead to a predator (not as useful to humans today as it was in prehistoric

times). This response also reduces blood flow, thus minimizing blood loss in

the event of an injury. Although we may no longer need to worry much about

mountain lions, this response is still useful for avoiding harm, such as jumping

out of the way of an oncoming car.

This discussion also leads us to make a distinction between anxiety and

fear. Theorists such as Sigmund Freud and S ren Kierkegaard viewed fear as

the response to a particular, observable threat and anxiety as undefined appre-

hension or anxiety without a particular stimulus or cue. We have since defined

anxiety further, on the basis of the work of behavioral and cognitive psycholo-

gists. Clearly, we learn to be anxious when confronted by certain stimuli that

have threatened us in the past. Also, because as humans we can analyze future

situations, we can worry in advance about upcoming events. Therefore, anxi-

ety is often related to specific stimuli.

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