Are you like a deer in the headlights on video? You have probably heard of the term “Fight or flight” as being the human body’s natural stress response to a life or death situation. However, it is not entirely accurate. As documented in ex-FBI agent Joe Navarro’s excellent book, What every BODY is saying, the way humans actually react to danger occurs in the following order: Freeze > Flight > Fight.
Millions of years ago when our ancestors climbed down from the trees and began walking upright around the African savanna, they were preyed upon by lions and other large cats. These powerful predators are attracted to movement and use the “chase, trip, and bite” hunting strategy that we still see in our domestic cats when chasing a toy across the floor.
This freezing action is sometimes termed the “deer-in-the-headlights” effect
The survival mechanism we inherited from our ancestors (the ones who managed to avoid being eaten by lions) was to immediately freeze in response to perceived danger, and assess the situation before taking action. Other animals use this strategy also, and this freezing action is sometimes termed the “deer-in-the-headlights” effect.
“Freezing” is a Survival Mechanism we Inherited From our Ancestors
Soldiers in combat react the same way. When the soldier at the front of the squad “on point” freezes, everyone behind them freezes automatically without consciously thinking about it.
The strategy that opossums use, “playing dead” is an extreme example of the “freeze” mechanism, but they are not the only animals to do so. In the book, Navarro recites accounts of the school shootings at Columbine and Virginia Tech which showed that by freezing and playing dead, many students survived even though they were only a few feet away from the killer.
The psychology of color is important too. Did you know our eyes and brains also evolved to quickly detect the color yellow so we could spot the lions in the grass before they saw us?
The “freeze” response helps us to avoid detection if we see the lion first. However, if the freeze response does not help us avoid the danger, (e.g., the lion is onto us), the second limbic response is to get away using the “flight” response. If we can’t get away, “fight” is the final option, but as we are much weaker and slower than lions, this is not ideal and obviously a last resort.
In Modern Society, when People Feel Threatened, They Still React in the Same Manner
What does this have to do with video presentations you may ask? In our modern society, when people feel threatened, they still react in exactly the same manner as our ancestors did a million years ago; they freeze. They can’t help it, the threat response happens at a subconscious level, driven by the limbic system, the primitive part of our brains.
I see the threat response occur to various degrees with many of my clients who are new to video presentations. We call it “nerves” but that is just a nicer word for fear. Most people who are put in front of the video camera for the first time feel nervous and tend to become self-conscious and “freeze” up. It might be because they don’t like how they look. Or they don’t like the way they sound. Or they are not sure how to present themselves effectively to the video camera. As a result, they project very little social energy. They shut down their displays of emotion and come across as “flat” or “wooden” in their delivery to the camera.
For my recommendations on how to work through your fear and nerves, see my previous article: 6 Tips to Master Your Nerves on Video.