The Fight or Flight Response
When do we experience the ‘fight or flight’ response?
Usually, the fight or flight response is something that individuals experience when they are stressed. Definition of Stress: “When an imbalance or discrepancy exists between perceived demands and perceived coping resources, then a state of stress exists.” Cox and Mackay (1978).
How does the body respond to stress?
The stress response is important for survival in animals because the physiological changes associated with stress are essential in conditions of fight or flight (i.e. attacking or running away).
The stress response is therefore thought to be:
- An innate, defensive and adaptive response that should promote survival.
- A bodily response which enables an animal to react quickly to potentially dangerous stimuli
- Anything that prompts the body to respond in this biological way by becoming stressed is known as a ‘stressor’.
Key physiological response observed during ‘fight or flight’
- Heart beats faster (increases the amount of oxygen and glucose in the body in order to provide the individual with more energy)
- Breathing becomes more rapid
- Muscle tense
- Non-emergency processes like digestion is stopped (in order to save energy)
- Pupils dilate (individual becomes more aware of their surroundings/take in more information) The fight or flight response has evolved as a survival mechanism, enabling animals and humans to react quickly to life-threatening situations. The bodily changes associated with ‘fight or flight’ allow an individual to fight off the threat or flee to safety. Unfortunately, the ‘fight or flight’ response is also activated in situations that are not life-threatening, and where fighting or running away is not particularly helpful.
Exam Tip: Although students tend to dislike learning the stress response (because it contains some difficult concepts) it is essential that you know the above flow chart for the exam along with the body’s physiological response to stress. This is a common question in the exam so be prepared and be able to describe the stress response accurately and in detail.