DT4EMS’ Human Animal Theory

DT4EMS’ “Human Animal Theory”


Is it true a dog can smell fear? Why do bees only sting certain people? Why does a deer stand erect when it hears a twig crack? Do the animals know something is about to happen? Can cows feel a storm coming? When it comes to self-preservation are we really that different from other animals?

Have you ever heard someone say “I just knew something wasn’t right” or “I had this feeling something was wrong”? In my police experience those kinds of statements were usually made by a victim of a crime while I was obtaining their statements. In my experience as a paramedic people would make statements where they believed they were going to die. It is called the feeling of impending doom. Medical personnel are trained to recognize when a person is experiencing that feeling because it usually represents a true medical emergency. It is this “feeling” we want to explore.

Paying attention to this feeling may prove beneficial in personal safety. I bring both of those up to shed light to what I call the Human Animal Theory. I believe we all still have recognition of dangers based on somewhat subtle clues. According to Carlin Flora of Psychology Today:

“Intuitions, or gut feelings, are sudden, strong judgments whose origin we can’t immediately explain. Although they seem to emerge from an obscure inner force, they actually begin with a perception of something outside—a facial expression, a tone of voice, a visual inconsistency so fleeting you’re not even aware you noticed.” (1)

When lecturing on personal safety I start the topic of discussion by asking women if they have ever been to a big city. Most reply “yes”. I then ask them if they ever went shopping somewhere in that big city? Again, the reply is usually “yes”. I ask them if they ever recall being at a point where they were just about to insert their car key into the door of their car when out of nowhere they had this “feeling” someone was looking at them. They looked over their shoulder and from a distance they observed a person staring at them. I would ask “How did you know to look specifically in that direction”? How did you know they were there? Can you think back to a time this has happened to you?

With men it is a little different. I start them off with asking if they had ever consumed some sort of adult beverage at an establishment designed for drinking said beverages. Most men will begin to smile, look at each other in the room and maybe even pat each other on the back. I then ask them if when they were at the establishment, they ever noticed someone in the room becoming loud and obnoxious. Maybe the loud guy began to become aggressive with people and pushed some folks around. I asked them why something in their head said “I could take him…. He better not come over here!”?

Immediately I take them back to the same establishment and change saying a man is in there shaking everyone’s hand and smiling but yet the same voice in their head says “Man, there is something about that guy, I wouldn’t want to have to fight him.” What is the difference? It doesn’t make sense on paper to not worry about the aggressive guy and worry about the friendly guy. Have you ever had someone tell you about an incident involving crime or an injury and tell you they had a “feeling” just prior to the incident?

Most people have watched some sort of reality TV show about cops. There is a camera view of the officer in a patrol car, driving down the street, passing numerous people on the sidewalks and cars coming and going. Why is it when the officer is in the middle of saying something like, “I grew up in this town, I really love helping my community….” Then the officer suddenly keys up on something and says “let’s check on…” and BAM! There is either a car chase or a foot pursuit. Why did the police officer decide to stop that particular person or car?

The interesting thing is all of these feelings are similar. They all felt something was just not right. Usually the feeling is vague but the perception needs to be precise. You have heard people tell you to “listen to your gut instinct”, isn’t that what has been described here? Pay attention to that little voice. It is there for a reason. The human mind can be aware of many things, but only focus on one. Criminals select victims based upon their vulnerabilities as prey. They take advantage of people who are distracted.

Personally I believe we get this “feeling” something is wrong because somewhere we perceived a threat. We only register the information as a “gut instinct” because we were not focused on the particular stimulus. Again, we are aware of a multitude of things, but can only focus on one. Anytime you get the “feeling” you must investigate it further.

If you ever get the “feeling something is not right” here are some tips for both on an off the job:
(This is not an all inclusive list, merely some tips to help you create your own safety strategy)

• Immediately look 360 degrees around yourself (Awareness)
• Do not act like a kid hiding under the covers thinking “If they can’t see me they must not exist”. Awareness of your surroundings is key.
• If close to the perceived threat; create space (Safe Distance) This gives the brain precious moments to process incoming information.
• If you see someone who looks suspicious, briefly look them in the eye. Do not stare; simply let them know you saw their face.

• Call  for help/assistance early.
Know your specific location at all times. Landmarks, street names, buildings are all important in case you have to dial 911 or radio for help.

• Notice vehicles and license plates if possible.
• If practical walk towards a non-threatening group of people.
• Be like a moth “go to the light” well lit areas are safer.
• Report it! Let the police know about suspicious behavior. Many crimes have been solved by people calling in a suspicious person to police.

Too many times people hear that little voice or get that feeling in their stomach something isn’t right and fail to recognize it for what it is. Instead of heeding the warning, they chose to ignore it and wind up the victim of some sort of crime. In pre-hospital medicine, specifically, this is where the provider fails to leave a situation/scene because they felt “compelled” to stay. Refer back to Violence-Duty to Act for more on why I believe this happens. Taking simple preventive steps by listening to your gut instincts can have a profound impact on the outcome of a potentially dangerous situation. Personally I like to think as humans we have an even greater affinity for recognizing potential hazards. I think it is our intelligence that sometimes keeps us from accessing our primal survival instincts. Now you know my perspective on the “Human Animal” and the theory of keeping it safe.

Flora, Carlin Gut Almighty http://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/200704/gut-almighty accessed 12-16-2009