We come across several survival stories via a variety of news sources and get inspired by them. We wonder how the survivors manage to survive in hard circumstances. What are the secrets of extraordinary survivors? Is it their inner strength that allows them to survive? or are humans hardwired to survive? Yes, of course, humans are hardwired to survive; with the help of survival instincts, our cave-dwelling ancestors remained alive and traveled a long journey of evolution. The human instinct to survive is in fact, a most powerful drive that controls how we think, what emotions we experience and how we behave and interact with others.
Ways we seem hardwired for survival
There are many instances when our survival instincts come into play, like fight or flight response, a baby’s cry mechanism, fertility motivation mechanism (desire to reproduce), and so on. These instances are evidence that we are hard-wired for survival i.e. we have instincts for survival. So, what are the other most obvious ways that show we have survival instincts? Here are some of the most obvious cases of human survival instincts:
Fight or flight: Our fight or flight reaction, in fact, is the strongest form of our survival instincts. This reaction is triggered by circumstances that seem threatening to our survival. Emotions that are very powerful and that are experienced instantly like surprise, disgust, fear warn us of the impending threat to our very existence. This warning prompts an urgent action and that urgent action enhances our chances of survival – in other words, those powerful emotions prompt behaviors that are necessary for survival.
Our fight or flight reaction lets our sympathetic nervous system activate rapid emotional, psychological, and physiological changes. Intense fear and anger are the evidence of emotional changes. Similarly, our heightened senses and a sudden cognitive improvement in our cognitive ability to make fast decisions reveal psychological changes. And the secretion of adrenaline into our blood is the indication of physiological changes – once we get a shot of adrenaline, our heart rate goes up, the rate of blood circulation improves and we start breathing hard and fast. These physiological changes enhance our strength and stamina. Without these changes, the survival of our ancestors was not possible.
Desire to reproduce: Another evidence that we have instincts for survival is we have desire to reproduce and we take necessary actions for producing robust and healthy offspring. For instance, the finding of a research conducted by BBC revealed that human beings have a hardwired ability to choose a partner that might produce a healthy and robust baby, that in turn would help ensure the survival of the human race.
Another rather very recent study supported the idea that association of grandparents with grandchildren enhances happiness and satisfaction of the grandparents – this is the evidence that somehow there is a link between reproduction and happiness. Someone may interpret from this research that the elderly people feel a sense of more happiness because they feel satisfied by the fact that their genes have passed onto the next generation – and this also ensures the survival of the human race.
A Baby’s Cry: A baby’s cry is also evidence that we are hardwired to survive. Babies are hard-wired to cry, no one teaches a baby that it must cry. It’s an automatic response to catch the attention of parents that it needs something. This fact may further be supported by the idea that babies change the pitch and even volume level of their cry to let parents know how serious their situation actually is.
Sometimes, a baby’s cry may be due to gas pains or a messy diaper. But when you think of it as a genetic contribution you might expect that natural selection would have favored genes for noisier children, as noisier ones get more attention. Of course, when a child gets more attention, it gets a lot of food, protection, and care which in turn enhances his chances of surviving to adulthood.
Our ability to say no to rotten or spoiled food: Another way we seem hardwired to survive is our ability to say no to rotten, spoiled and even bitter foods. Humans are instinctively turned off by rotten food. Even if an infant takes a bite of some spoiled food, she would spit it up. Human beings are turned off by spoiled foods because they seem bad for our health and in turn for our survival
A neuroscientific research found neural correlates of the perception of the stimuli of spoiled food. During the research an experiment was conducted. In the experiment, the participants were exposed to a set of stimulus material consisting of images of perishable foods which were at different stages of natural decay (some were a little bit appetitive and others were disgusting). The brains of the participants were scanned in multiple sessions using FMRI during their exposure to that particular stimuli of rotten foods. The data obtained from FMRI scan revealed larger activations in the extrastriate visual cortex during the processing of inedible as compared to edible food items. So, the experiment provided strong evidence that the brain is highly sensitive even to the visual cues of spoiled or decayed food.
We may say that our ability to select the cues of decayed food at early perceptual stages is quite advantageous for our survival.
Our ability to sense trouble: Humans are wired for survival because when they find themselves in a disastrous or troublesome situation, they sense it and react to it. A publication by the evolutionary psychologist at the University of California, Santa, Barbara, found that humans may identify changes to living things faster than those of non-living things. In the study, groups of undergraduate students from UCSB were shown images on the monitors of computers. The flashing images fluctuated between the pairs of several outdoor scenes such that the first image showed one scene and the next a different version of that scene with a slight change. Participants were asked to point out each time they detected a change.
The photographs consisted of animate categories, like people and other animals, besides the inanimate ones like plants, artifacts, etc. The participants pointed out changes involving living things in contrast to non-living objects. They correctly pointed out almost 90 percent of the changes to “living” targets compared with 66 percent for the inanimate things. The research reflects our attentional bias toward animals because they posed a threat to the survival of our ancestors – the ancient man was adept at spotting predators and prey. We retained that caveman’s survival instincts and we are naturally wired to be conscious of things that could potentially be a threat to our survival like our ancestors were.
So, there are various instances that reflect that humans are wired to survive. In the modern era, we don’t confront those threatening events that cave people used to confront every day, then how are these survival instincts valuable for modern man? Today the survival instincts help us to manage modern stressors, they have taken a new form – this new form of survival instincts helps us resolve our crisis of today’s complex world.
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