Summary and Lessons from "On Combat"

post by Gunnar_Zarncke · 2015-03-22T01:48:56.630Z · score: 17 (20 votes) · LW · GW · Legacy · 64 comments

Contents

  TL;DR
  Arousal Conditions
  Condition Black
  Cognitive Distortions
  Training
  Video Game and Violence
  Breathing
  Afterwards
  Miscellaneous
  My own 5c
None
64 comments

On Combat - The Psychology and hysiology of Deadly Conflict in War and in Peace by Lt. Col. Dave Grossman and Loren W. Christensen (third edition from 2007) is a well-written, evidence-based book about the reality of human behaviour in life-threatening situations. It is comprehensive (400 pages), provides detailed descriptions, (some) statistics as well as first-person recounts, historical context and other relevant information. But my main focus in this post is in the advice it gives and what lessons the LessWrong community may take from it.

TL;DR

In deadly force encounters you will experience and remember the most unusual physiological and psychological things. Innoculate yourself against extreme stress with repeated authentic training; play win-only paintball, train 911-dialing and -reporting. Train combat breathing. Talk to people after traumatic events.

Disclaimer: While I have read most of the book I have skimmed or skipped some sections I didn't found sufficiently relevant, applicable or new. These are mostly chapters in sections III and IV on warrior mind-set and history. I couldn't make myself read the section about the will to kill. I have to note that Grossman writes very balanced overall. He does strongly motivate the need for warriors and peace-keepers and urges for a suitable mind-set. This is to be expected of a distinguished West Point teacher. Nonetheless does he do so without indoctrination or lies. He tells the scientific truth about the harsh realities of war and deadly encounters and where he ventures into speculative explanations he says so. Where he inspires (there is a bit of hero cult between the lines) he mostly quotes people from the field. He also holds laudable views about the effect of violence on children.

He starts quickly with the hard facts.

Arousal Conditions

Grossman structures physiological arousal into conditions based mainly on heart rate:

Condition Black

Black is the state you will be in if you are in a life-threateing situation you are not prepared for and this what a lot of section I is about:

You will definitely lose bowel and bladder control (except if you went to the toilet immediately before).

You will be scared literally speechless (because speech requires motor control). What helps is trained responses. 

Vasoconstriction will shut down blood flow in your outer body layers. You will be white and not bleed from wounds but also lose any related motor control. Caution: You may bleed profusely when stress fades.

You will go on auto-pilot. You will do what you trained or visualized to do. You may freeze or fight or flee irrationally. You may go into a do-loop performing the last action dumbly repeatedly. What helps is training (see below). 

Cognitive Distortions

You will most likely experience one or more of the following cognitive distortions:

Basically your perception and memory can be trusted no more than a small childs. Possibly because you went down to that level of cognitive control. Only your unconscious competence will remain.

The theory put forward as to the origin and possibly adaptive function of these distortions is that some versions of these distortions are perfectly adaptive for predators (e.g. tunnel vision) and others for prey (e.g. visual clarity, intensified sound). And humans may have remaining potential for both.

Training

What helps to act well in these encounters is training. Precise training. Repeated training. There are lots of proverbs in the book but I select this:

"Your brain will not ascend to the challenge, but descend to the level of training."

Grossman gives lots of examples how a warrior or police officer should train but I will just give the corresponding advice for everyday people: 

Innoculate yourself against stress by training some authentically dangerous situations. A very good idea is to play paintball as that is a very competitive situation that is behaviorally comparale to a deadly force encounter. Use this to self-program to win and get going. Do not 'die' in the paintball game. Set it up that everybody may at least continue after a few seconds 'shock'. Also train to always back away and not to turn. Train in pairs.

People do not die easily in real life, you may loose 1/3 of your blood and there are survivors of even head and heart shots (you can act 5-7 seconds after hit in the heart and modern medicine will patch you together if they arrive fast enough, make sure they do). So you should not train yourself to 'die'.

Train dialing 911 (or whatever your emergency number is; make sure to set-up your phone suitably) and give accurate reports. Do so in a situation with suitable arousal (e.g. after a heavy run or in the middle of the night or with gloves). Many people are not capable to even dial the number in an emergency because they lack sufficient control.

Train some routine manoevers you think appropriate like searching cover, making alarm noises (Bigger Bang Theory) or exiting the house.

Video Game and Violence

This is a very interesting aspect of the book. As said above Grossman urges precise life-like training to ensure effective acting which includes automatic killing. But he is very well aware that the same kind of training goes on in ego shooters. He proposes that youth mass killings (some mentioned in the book) were at least partly facilitated by the markmanship these video games provided. Today there are many recruts that aquire 'super-human' shooting skills within one firing range session - because they played ego shooter everyday. Same for the highschool killers: 8 kills out of 8 shots with only one training session with a real weapon.

And the worst thing is that even though the killers may have planned to kill only their offender they often continued with the next victim and so on as if in trance - as they 'trained' in the games. The only ray of hope is that these games train stopping if called to. May highschool shootings were actually stopped immediately simply by calling the youth to stop. Like "game over" in the game. 

Grossman apparently runs and/or supports campains banning or better restricting these games and also urges parents to reduce TV consumption esp. violent video. Children are drawn to violent media because knowing about violence is an essential survival drive. 

UPDATE: Grossman is apparently misleadingly representing the facts about teenagers mass killings and teen violence in general.

Do Video Games Train Snipers? -> No

Have teenager mass killings increased with Ego Shooter User? -> No

Breathing

Grossman shows that we cannot control the autonomous nervious system (directly) and that there are only two aspects of it that can easily be controlled: Blink and Breath. By controlling breathing one apparently has a strong feedback effect on the autonomous system. Slowing down breathing slows down the pulse. Grossman explains how Combat Breathing works and gives numerous examples of it's success (but I couldn't find a reliable study on this). Grossman also cites Lamaze Breathing as related.

The method in short:

  1. Breathe in through the nose counting to 4.
  2. Hold Breath counting to 4.
  3. Breath out through the nose counting to 4.
  4. Hold Breath counting to 4.
  5. Repeat 4 times.

Afterwards

After short experiences it will take some time for adrenaline to burn off. Physical exercise helps.

Afterwards you way experience reduced or increased appetite. And you may experience significantly increased sexual arousal (at least if a man) or a cessation of your period (if you are a woman). Both is normal but should be communicated clearly.

For very traumatic experiences you will likely need psychiatric treatment afterwards, esp. if the event took longer. The main variant is PTSD. What helps is stress innoculation (see training above) beforehand and professional debriefing afterwards (best repeated some times).

Miscellaneous

There is a section on lack of sleep. Sleep deprivation makes you as ineffective in life-threatening situations as if you were drunk. Caffeine helps bit. Nicotine doesn't. Pain helps. 

Warriors (and in general many people) often have performance anxiety dreams where their weapon or equipment (or their art) fails them. 

Grossman explains that many battles were won due to psychology and the impression of power made played a larger role than the actual power. One major contributor to this is the 'Bigger Bang'. What makes a bigger impression on the enemy is perceived as more powerful even though it objectively may not be so. Obviously a simple bias but as cognition is low in battle the effect cannot be countered easily. That is the reason muskeets were effective. They were loud and impressive whereas an arrow just went 'twit'. Same with modern weapons. One exploding granade can have a much more fear inspiring effect than the ding ding of precision guns - despite killing less.

The chapter on war history included the short remark that most ancient battles apparently involved more show than fighting - until one side gave in. This matches up with a dissonance I had when reading Anabasis: I was surprised that Xenophons Greek had so little losses during their trek thru asia minor - despite many attacks. Apparently really little actual confrontation was need because of the superior performance of the greek.

The chapter on spiritual and moral aspects contained the interesting point that the commandment "Thou shall not kill" is probably better translated as "Thou shall not murder" (and is rendered this way in some translations). Apparently this view is backed by quite a lot of verses some of them by Jesus. 

My own 5c

I experienced a Condition beyond Red twice in my life.

Once as a youth when I was beaten and kicked on the street, went on auto-pilot, covered in fear and had loss of memory and somewhat traumatic emotional associations with the event afterwards.

The second time as an adult. Due to a dangerous incident I spontaneously went into a protective auto-pilot mode in which I stubbornly continued to protected even when there was no danger. I still have relatively precise recollection of the second event and it is surprising who protective actions were deliberately planned but meta-level though and empathy were off - until they suddenly kicked back in.

My understanding of what happend and how it happend in these events became clearer due to the book.

To control my asthma I use a mix of breathing methods, one being Buteyko Breathing, another the breathing technique from the prenatal classes of my ex-wife. Now I also regularly use Combat Breathing e.g. to get to Condition Yellow in fencing.

ADDED: I acted on the advice in the book by training dialing 911 with my oldest (line disconnected). I also taught him the breathing technique.

 

64 comments

Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by Lumifer · 2015-03-23T16:38:53.124Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

He proposes that youth mass killings (some mentioned in the book) were at least partly facilitated by the markmanship these video games provided. Today there are many recruts that aquire 'super-human' shooting skills within one firing range session - because they played ego shooter everyday.

I think this is bullshit and one that has been repeatedly debunked.

FPS games train coordination between the cursor on the screen and very fine movements by wrist muscles which control the mouse. That has pretty much zero relationship to actually shooting a weapon in real life where the muscles you need to train are entirely different.

campains banning or better restricting these games

There has been a LOT of effort to find causation between violent video games and real-life crime. It followed in the well-worn footsteps of trying to find similar causation between some-cultural-phenomenon-we-dislike (e.g. rock-n-roll) and crime, and with more or less the same results. None has been shown to exist.

As someone who occasionally plays FPSes, I find the idea that they train me as a mass murderer to be ridiculous enough to be funny :-)

comment by Gunnar_Zarncke · 2015-03-23T22:20:24.393Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I think this is bullshit and one that has been repeatedly debunked.

I'd like to see a meta study of this to compare the exact results. Actually you may both be right. Grossman doesn't claim that FPS ''causes'' violence. He claims that it facilities it.

He does claim that TV causes violence (and cites large studies to that effect).

He also claims that FPS does train marksmanship and I'd be very surprised if this doesn't play out. Most military do use FPS training (OK, they might even if it didn't, but he cites a curious case of a syrian (?) city where the only electricity was used to power a PC running FPS to train guerillia or some such).

The human brain has a uncanny ability to transfer skills from one domain into another and from FPS to real life shooting it is apparently not that far. How would you explain the ability of teenagers to kill lots of people with headshots after only one day of experience with a real weapon but hundreds of hours of FPS?

Also: How do you explain that the highschool killers didn't stop after killing their intended targer but kept going? Grossman repeatedly explains how behavior that is trained in comes out under stress like auto-pilot. Behavior that is intended for fighters. Why would that be different for children?

comment by Lumifer · 2015-03-24T14:34:48.397Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I'd like to see a meta study of this to compare the exact results.

It's psy-sociology, so not quite science and studies tend to be pretty bad. But the point is that there was a lot of desire to find such a connection and it just stubbornly refuses to be found.

However what I called bullshit was the claim that playing FPSes makes you a good real-life marksman.

Most military do use FPS training

Yes, for things like tactical awareness, unit cohesion, etc. I am not aware of anyone who uses FPSes to train marksmanship.

the ability of teenagers to kill lots of people with headshots after only one day of experience with a real weapon but hundreds of hours of FPS?

What is this "ability of teenagers"? Sources, please.

How do you explain that the highschool killers didn't stop after killing their intended targer but kept going?

I have no idea what you are talking about. Do note, however, that to support your point you need to show that such behaviour was absent or less frequent before FPSes became widely played.

comment by Gunnar_Zarncke · 2015-03-24T18:36:42.737Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

This also claims that Grossman misrepresented the facts:

http://www.grandtheftchildhood.com/GTC/Excerpts/Entries/2008/1/28_Can_video_games_train_snipers.html

I tend to update toward him being intentionally misleading in at least some of his points.

Disappointed.

comment by Lumifer · 2015-03-24T18:58:40.340Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Yeah, well, politics is not the only topic one can get mindkilled on. Arguments are soldiers, y'know...

comment by DanArmak · 2015-04-04T13:41:30.773Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Quite apropos, since his book is about how soldiers (or "warriors") get mindkilled in a sense.

comment by Gunnar_Zarncke · 2015-03-24T21:09:49.135Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Ruminating a bit about this. If I just assume he bends arguments everywhere I have to discount all his arguments as soldiers (kind of a pun isn't it). But isn't that just a negative halo effect?

One other interpretation is that he over-extends the probably well-founded results for solders to children playing FPS. He might even look away from contradicting evidence. Yes such is the argument of someone looking to defend him. But one could also call it steelmaning.

Also: If I assume that children do not acquire routine killing pattern in FPS then I also have to assume that soldiers do so neither. But then how do you explain the much increased shooting percentage in wars after routine killing training (with fotorealistic targets) was introduced after WW2?

comment by Lumifer · 2015-03-25T14:29:30.568Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

But isn't that just a negative halo effect?

Not quite -- you now know that he is not above bending to truth to support his point. That does not mean all his arguments suffer from this, but I think it's correct to update towards requiring more third-party confirmations.

ge over-extends the probably well-founded results for solders to children playing FPS.

That sentence makes no sense to me. Compare: "he over-extends the probably well-founded results for solders to children playing cowboys and indians".

I don't doubt that it's possible to teach people to kill (better, easier, more efficiently). It's also possible to teach kids to kill (see African child soldiers). But I still don't see what FPSes have to do with this.

comment by Gunnar_Zarncke · 2015-03-25T20:32:27.602Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I meant the well-founded results that solders can be trained to automatically act in certain patterns even when under stress via authentic simulations. Simulations which involve FPS, Paintball, fotorealistic target on shooting ranges...

He over-extends these to children playing only the FPS part of this training by assuming that the FPS part is enough to anchor the behavior.

But I still don't see what FPSes have to do with this.

FPS are a way to train behavioral patterns. Action sequences that are likely to get executed without conscious thought when under stress - same as intended for soldiers.

comment by Lumifer · 2015-03-25T20:39:45.994Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

FPS are a way to train behavioral patterns.

The behavioral pattern that FPSes train is to slightly move the mouse and click with your index finger.

comment by Gunnar_Zarncke · 2015-03-25T20:44:35.353Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I (or for that matter Grossman) don't mean fine motor skills. I mean higher abstractions like scan environment, search next target, shoot, move on, stop on game-over.

comment by Lumifer · 2015-03-25T20:55:45.908Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

"Stop on game-over" as a behavioral pattern is, I think, pure fiction. Note that it's different from "stop on command" which is trained in a lot of situations.

So, let's take, say, wildlife photography. It teaches one to "scan environment, search next target, shoot, move on". OMG, wildlife photography trains killers!

In the more general sense, the loop "scan -- locate -- act" is very common -- look e.g. at a football match or a traffic cop or a driver fighting through traffic or... etc. etc. It's by no means unique to FPSes.

comment by Gunnar_Zarncke · 2015-03-25T23:46:45.823Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Sorry. I have the impression that you are intentionally misunderstanding me. I just can't read that as genuine desire to understand what I (or Grossman) mean but as to use your own metaphor soldier arguments.

For example "stop on game" over was admittedly simplistic but you could have read it as including "stop on command" which is the actual case mentioned by Grossman. He doesn't claim that "game over" stops the children but actual commands (probably by caregivers) did in attempted violence cases.

comment by Lumifer · 2015-03-26T14:23:13.571Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I am not trying to misunderstand you. But try stepping away from Grossman's claims and looking at it from your own eyes.

but you could have read it as including "stop on command" which is the actual case mentioned by Grossman.

This is nonsense on stilts. "Stop on command" is one of the first behavioral patterns taught to small children as soon as they are able to understand and respond (and for good reasons, too). This is reinforced in daily life, in school, etc. Making someone stop on command has nothing at all to do with computer games.

comment by Gunnar_Zarncke · 2015-03-24T18:30:01.728Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

1) I can't show that it was absent before FPS became good enought because it wasn't:

http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2014/06/17/why-timely-reliable-data-on-mass-killings-is-hard-to-find/

So Grossman is probably wrong on this:

http://www.killology.com/school_notes_preventing_violence.htm

comment by beoShaffer · 2015-03-23T01:29:32.152Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Most of the criticism don't directly concern the claims you're highlighting, but on combat is actually pretty controversial.

comment by Gunnar_Zarncke · 2015-03-23T05:57:16.645Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I'm not surprised. The first reaction I got from someone I mentioned the book to was: "One of those West-Point trainers preaching war" (more or less)

Grossman does give clear advice how to create human killing machines. No doubt about that. Is that dark art? Maybe. But he also highlightes all the consequences. Even inspiring a hero cult as he does is backed by the fact that a small number of actors do make a big difference in battle.

And then his treatment of video game violence. If you are against him and see him as the bad guy this can't fit into your picture. And is surely one reason he is seen as a light side guy (or at least as balanced by the smarter ones).

comment by beoShaffer · 2015-03-24T23:17:52.471Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I was referring to factual controversy, not political. While it sounds like the most dubious parts are the ones you skipped/skimmed, a major facet of Grossman's work in general is his ideas about the psychology of killing, and as the above link details these ideas are based on a mixture of pathetically bad evolutionary psychology, and dubious (read probably fraudulent) empirical evidence. Since, your review didn't focus on this aspect I don't want to harp on it too much, at the same time it has a lot of knock on effects e.g. your views on video games and violence are likely to be different if you believe humans are naturally violent than if you believe they need significant training to be psychologically capable of killing.

comment by CronoDAS · 2015-03-22T07:50:21.244Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Outside of an automobile, I've only been in one situation that I thought could have life-threatening consequences. I was walking home from school, and I found myself a few feet away from a growling, angry-seeming dog that wasn't on a leash or behind a fence. I was very scared, because people really do die from dog attacks. I tried to implement what I remembered about how to deal with a dog that might potentially attack - don't look it in the eye, back away slowly, hold a coat or something (I had a backpack) in front of you between yourself and the dog to give it an attack target that isn't your body - but mostly I just stood there until, what seemed like a moment later, a woman who must have been the dog's owner appeared and called it away.

After that day, I stayed on the other side of the street when I walked home.

comment by William_Quixote · 2015-03-23T16:48:41.181Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I think this is a good post and I upvoted it. That said, I do want to present an alternative view. Rather than aiming to boost life expectancy by increasing your odds of survival given a life threatening situation, aim to reduce your odds of being in a dangerous situation in the first place. In the amount of time it would take you to arrange one round of paintball you could probably check detailed crimes stats for several neighborhoods including things like time of day.

comment by Lumifer · 2015-03-23T16:54:00.831Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Rather than aiming to boost life expectancy by increasing your odds of survival given a life threatening situation, aim to reduce your odds of being in a dangerous situation in the first place.

That's not an either-or choice, you can do both.

comment by Nornagest · 2015-03-23T17:18:49.806Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

You can do both, but both take effort, and one may be more rewarding than the other. Assuming that the share of effort you want to spend on improving your life expectancy is finite, that there aren't any diminishing returns in play, and that you've factored in any tradeoffs, it makes sense to devote your effort exclusively to the more rewarding option.

All those assumptions are more or less questionable, but the one about tradeoffs looks the weakest to me; all else equal, I'd expect measures aimed at increasing the survivability of dangerous situations to be more fun and less financially and hedonically cumbersome than measures aimed at staying out of them, but probably less effective for the effort. But someone with a martial arts habit would say that, wouldn't he?

comment by Lumifer · 2015-03-23T17:42:41.533Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

it makes sense to devote your effort exclusively to the more rewarding option.

Not in the presence of uncertainty about probabilities and payoffs, and uncertainty is certainly present :-)

The diminishing returns are also there, of course.

measures aimed at increasing the survivability of dangerous situations to be more fun and less financially and hedonically cumbersome than measures aimed at staying out of them

That probably all depends. Advice to not take midnight walks in downtown Detroit isn't all that cumbersome -- avoidance is usually cheap and easy. There are certainly exceptions, though, and training for danger has important side benefits: increased general self-confidence, plus upping the macho factor for guys.

comment by Nornagest · 2015-03-23T17:48:44.353Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

avoidance is usually cheap and easy

Unless you're in the habit of packing your own parachutes without training or taking midnight walks in downtown Detroit, avoidance may be easy but it's certainly not cheap. The middle-class habit of buying homes in the burbs instead of closer to work is perhaps the most obvious and largest-scale avoidance behavior that I can think of, and it's enormously costly in both money and time.

comment by Lumifer · 2015-03-23T17:56:20.278Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

The middle-class habit of buying homes in the burbs instead of closer to work is perhaps the most obvious and largest-scale avoidance behavior that I can think of

Nowadays that's driven more by schools than by crime, but in any case the context is relevant -- which training for dealing with danger can you offer as an alternative? :-/

I am also not sure it's costly in money -- the market reflects demand and as demand shifts so do prices. If the limited resource that you want is the one everyone wants, it's always going to be expensive.

comment by Gunnar_Zarncke · 2015-03-23T22:06:46.853Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I think that is an insightful alternative and I think I overlooked it simply because it feel so normal/obvious to me. I'm naturally risk averse and I'd say that I have long since taken all the not-so-low hanging fruit of risk avoidance (neighborhood, car, certain sports, drugs and other health risks...). This seemed just obvious for me as a youth - but it did cause some social exclusion (which I didn't feel bad about as I had family and some friends).

See also http://lesswrong.com/lw/lx4/summary_and_lessons_from_on_combat/c68w for context.

comment by Vaniver · 2015-03-22T16:18:30.190Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Sleep makes you as ineffective in life-threatening situations as if you were drunk.

Presumably this is "sleep deprivation," as I would imagine being actually asleep during life-threatening situations is even worse than being drunk.

comment by Gunnar_Zarncke · 2015-03-22T17:05:18.793Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Ups. Typo fixed.

comment by Pfft · 2015-03-23T13:14:26.357Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

The combat breathing thing is a bit puzzling. I know martial arts like karate and akido also teaches students to breath deeply and at a relatively slow pace. And practicing this is a big part of overcoming panic attacks.

But if deep slow breathing is better, then why did we evolve to take quick shallow breaths in stressful situations? By Algernon's law, is there some kind of tradeoff going on?

comment by Lumifer · 2015-03-23T16:23:19.608Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I know martial arts like karate and akido also teaches students to breath deeply and at a relatively slow pace.

As far as I know martial arts teach you to sync your breathing to what your body is doing. A simple example is that karate likes strikes coupled with explosive exhalations.

comment by Nornagest · 2015-03-23T17:29:42.600Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

There's a lot of variation. Some martial arts, and even some schools of a particular martial art, are big on the kiai thing to the point of expecting you to kiai with every full-power strike; some have little or no emphasis on it. The one constant is that they'll all tell you to keep breathing one way or another.

The reason why becomes obvious once you start teaching. A surprising number of students stop breathing or breathe very shallowly under surprisingly mild stress (think two-person kata, not full contact or even point sparring).

comment by Gunnar_Zarncke · 2015-03-23T23:04:23.338Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Continue breathing is one of the first tips for stage fright. Consciously keep breathing on stage to avoid black out. Train this. Nobody told me. Had to read that in "The Charisma Myth".

comment by Pfft · 2015-03-23T19:02:56.657Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

The reason why becomes obvious once you start teaching. A surprising number of students stop breathing or breathe very shallowly under surprisingly mild stress

Isn't this really strange?

comment by Nornagest · 2015-03-23T19:44:31.034Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

It's odd, yes. It looks a lot like a freeze reaction, so my working theory is that it would have been trained out of people growing up in the EEA except for the worst, most immediate dangers (hearing a tiger cough in the bushes twenty feet away), but that it's triggered by relatively mild stressors in the present day because contemporary life is far less violent. Sort of like the calibration error that has our immune systems going on tilt whenever they catch a whiff of grass pollen, now that they aren't constantly dealing with mild parasitic infections and unrefrigerated antelope meat and whatever random bacterial spores happened to be in the dirt on yesterday's tubers and so forth.

That's evopsych, though, and evopsych explanations always run the risk of turning into just-so stories. My confidence in it isn't particularly high.

comment by Gunnar_Zarncke · 2015-03-23T23:02:40.081Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Jupp. Was my thought too.

comment by Lumifer · 2015-03-23T17:45:53.159Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Yes, I find it amusing how one style would be insistent that strikes should be on an exhale, and another style would be just as insistent that the only right way to strike is on an inhale :-)

And, yes, tense-up-and-stop-breathing is one of the first things novices need to be trained out of.

comment by AnthonyC · 2015-03-24T20:32:20.303Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Having tried half a dozen styles, I've met to find one that suggests striking on the inhale. Citation? Unless it was a joke and I missed it.

Emphasis on kiai varies tremendously, but one of the common themes is that you breathe out for pushing and breathe in for pulling - in/out as an analogy both breathing and movement to help keep your whole mind and body focused on a coherent action. Also, exhaling when you get hit (or just before) tightens muscles in the torso which can be protective.

comment by Lumifer · 2015-03-25T14:24:55.931Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I might have overstated my case :-)

I had in mind Tai Chi where one of the basic classifications of movement is into opening and closing ones. You inhale when you open and exhale when you close. A lot (but not all) of the strikes are when you open.

comment by ChristianKl · 2015-03-22T10:41:34.730Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Grossman shows that we cannot control the autonomous nervious system (directly) and that there are only two aspects of it that can easily be controlled: Blink and Breath.

The fact that he can't doesn't mean "we" can't.

The one time somebody grabbed me after midnight and said: "Give me 5 Euro or I kill you" I still had control over my state and switched into a more relaxed one. It was very much a trained automatic response.

It's likely easier to train breathing techniques, but it's not the only option.

Innoculate yourself against stress by training some authentically dangerous situations. A very good idea is to play paintball as that is a very competitive situation that is behaviorally comparable to a deadly force encounter.

Paintball seems to be a good simulation for soldier going to war. On the other hand most of us face different potential challenges and I don't think paintball generalizes well to them.

Train dialing 911 (or whatever your emergency number is; make sure to set-up your phone suitably) and give accurate reports.

Dialing 911 without an emergency is illegal in many cases. Is there a good way to setup a sandbox to train the skill?

comment by Gunnar_Zarncke · 2015-03-22T11:53:21.482Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

It's likely easier to train breathing techniques, but it's not the only option.

Agreed. But it could be that the other techniques are also all indirect.

On the other hand most of us face different potential challenges and I don't think paintball generalizes well to them.

I found the paintball setting quite general. Could you give examples of other challenges you have in mind?

Dialing 911 without an emergency is illegal in many cases. Is there a good way to setup a sandbox to train the skill?

I just plugged out the VOIP router so you still had at leasts a dial tone. Some routers allow setting specific routes for specific call numbers. You have to experiment.

comment by ChristianKl · 2015-03-22T19:42:08.652Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Agreed. But it could be that the other techniques are also all indirect.

Whether you call something direct or indirect doesn't matter that much but what I'm doing feels more direct than breath control or blinking. Especially quite formalized breathing as described in the combat breathing.

While I haven't done biofeedback myself it's my understanding that it's practitioners can change a variable like the heart beat quite directly.

I found the paintball setting quite general. Could you give examples of other challenges you have in mind?

I personally think what had the most impact for myself was dealing with stronger emotions in personal development contexts. Facing real fears that actually matter in my life had the most impact.

If you haven't yet have the experience, jump out of a plane with a parachute. I would estimate that it brings you much more in contact with the fear of dying then a paintball game does. There are probably diminishing returns from doing it multiple times but it raises strong emotions.

Tony Robbins let people walk over hot coals in his seminar. It's likely not something you want to do at home (Tony Robbins has medical staff standing by at his seminars) but it's the kind of activity that raises strong emotions.

comment by Gunnar_Zarncke · 2015-03-22T20:23:13.782Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I personally think what had the most impact for myself was dealing with stronger emotions in personal development contexts. Facing real fears that actually matter in my life had the most impact.

That adds a very relevant aspect to this. For me strong emotions where almost never an issue. Even in the two incidents I mentioned I wasn't hindered by emotions. The first just went too fast (I have little memory of the situation itself and none of fears) and the second involved no fear or anger either, only an immensely powerful urge to protect. And the latter didn't feel like emotion. I have difficulties to explain this partly because I have so little experience with strong emotions.

I have no fear of hight nor falling nor constriction nor darkness nor aloneness nor animals that I know of. I'd think I'd enjoy parachuting (I think it would be an interesting aerodynamics experience a great view) and can't imagine fear (it may be not comparable but I don't feel fear when falling during climbing or in a roller coaster either). But I agree that training to deal with strong emotions e.g. in these cases has also many benefits and falls into the same category of stress innoculation.

But independent of the fear and emotions in these situations there is still the training effect. In stressful situations do higher cognitive functions decline and you fall back to the level of your training. One can observe this even during heavy physical exercise: Just try to answer complex mathematical queries during it.

comment by ChristianKl · 2015-03-23T09:56:05.542Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I have no fear of hight nor falling nor constriction nor darkness nor aloneness nor animals that I know of.

A lot of people on LW aren't exactly neurotypical ;) While we did interact shortly in person it wasn't long enough for me to know how you tick. If I remember right your reaction to hugging was pretty normal.

How about social fears? Fear of rejection by woman? Fear when getting hit on by a homosexual dude? Fear of negotiating?

Even in the two incidents I mentioned I wasn't hindered by emotions. The first just went too fast (I have little memory of the situation itself and none of fears)

In your description above you mentioned that you were covered in fear. There are multiple kinds of fear. There's fight, flight and freeze. To me it sounds like you did freeze.

comment by Gunnar_Zarncke · 2015-03-23T12:00:17.873Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I do fear physical violence and harm for me. I hate violent behavior in general esp. if I can't understand it.

How about social fears? Fear of rejection by woman? Fear when getting hit on by a homosexual dude? Fear of negotiating?

No fear of rejection. I do not understand the concept well. If it doesn't match that's how it is. I won't manipulate anyone to like me in the short run as I'm interested only in the long run. The main reasons I do not approach anybody are not fear but a) too little motivation on my side, b) too much expected effort per hedons, c) too few that are attractive to begin with.

when getting hit on by a homosexual dude?

Didn't happen yet. If there is no risk of violence I can't see how it is different from any other social situation.

Fear of negotiating?

I don't understand where there can be any fear as long as no existential risks are involved.

But considering I see that I do have a social fear: Presenting in front of a large audience. I don't fear it beforehand but I know that I have trouble speaking until I get into flow. 30 people is enough. You may have noiced it during the LW Europe Berlin presentation.

The common pattern for strong reactionsis far reaching consequences I do not have under control.

To me it sounds like you did freeze.

I did cover. As I said I have no clear recollection of it. It was no planned ducking or active in any way. Passive self-covering as far as I can tell. I did write fear but considering it it was more how I'd interpret it from an outside view, not how I knew it felt. As I said above I surely felt fear. I know emotions - only the situation has to escalate quite a bit to raise the emotions to a level that it controls my actions - and not just giving inklings as to what might be appropriate.

comment by ChristianKl · 2015-03-23T12:29:51.970Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

If there is no risk of violence I can't see how it is different from any other social situation.

For most heterosexual dudes there a fear that can be triggered. but it might very well not be the case for you.

I did write fear but considering it it was more how I'd interpret it from an outside view, not how I knew it felt.

Fight fear feels different than flight fear with feels different then freeze fear.

How do you do when it comes to feeling positive emotions? Do you have them in your life?

comment by Gunnar_Zarncke · 2015-03-23T21:51:18.019Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Fight fear feels different than flight fear with feels different then freeze fear.

Could you elaborate as to how these differ except obviously for the reaction they cause?

How do you do when it comes to feeling positive emotions? Do you have them in your life?

I feel a lot of happiness resulting from interaction with my children, their actions or just from observicing them be. This reminds me of a negative emotion that is triggered by my children too: Anger when they hurt or are cruel to each other. That causes a dissonance I can't resolve easily and sometimes hinders efficient action.

I enjoy some sports and physical entertainment.

I take calm delight from the merry parties at my home.

I am happy when a project or plan is a success. And if not even small successes come in for a longer time I can get slightly depressed (out of which I usually get quickly by phone calls with supportive relatives).

My dominant emotion if you can call it that is flow. The immersion into a subject. It is not happyness nor satisfaction (these may come afterwards). It is a feeling of agency. I fall easily into flow if a subject engages me and there are many. I'd call flow a positive emotion.

In very difficult situations (personally, socially, involving others) where after exhausting all my actions and all my reasons the situation still looks bleak I feel desperation and tearfulness. It happens seldom and in all the few cases except one it led to support by others so I see this as an adaptive emotion the actually did help me despite it feeling - well - bad. To illustrate it I once was resonsible for a larger group of children that failed to respond positively to all my positively intended actions and nothing I did helped against the unrest and meanness among them. Finally after some days (we were a group of caregivers) I broke down and cried and was relieved and comforted by others of our team.

Reconsidering all this it looks as if emotions result from situation I can't control. As I control most situations very well by a) avoiding trouble, b) long-term planning, c) training, it may just be that I just don't get into emotional situations sufficient often to learn to feel and deal with them.

ADDED: I notice that I'm revealing lots of personal detail which may appear strange. I feel no risk from that (thus no fear). I do not expect reciprocation.

comment by ChristianKl · 2015-03-23T22:54:31.045Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

That sounds all healthy. I'm not sure if it's worth focusing your energies in changing something about this issue.

Training automatic responses to a few crisis situations might still be valuable.

comment by Gunnar_Zarncke · 2015-03-23T23:07:50.212Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Thank you for your external view. I got the same impression. I'm somewhat unusual - but who isn't in some aspect.

comment by Gunnar_Zarncke · 2015-03-22T20:00:27.860Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

it's my understanding that it's practitioners can change a variable like the heart beat quite directly.

And Zen monks being able to change body temperaure quite selectively, yes. But I wonder how direct this actually is. To make it measurable I imagine directness as something like the number of neural layers between the conscious parts of the brain and the actual physiological circuitry. The more layers there are and the more precise the physiological processes you have to trigger the more training is needed (though more layers that are capable of learning - as in deep learning algorithms - may make it easier). That it 'feels' direct once you have acquired the skill is an illusion in so far as any acquired skill appear easy once one has mastered it.

comment by ChristianKl · 2015-03-22T20:38:36.354Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

And Zen monks being able to change body temperaure quite selectively, yes.

Most of the reports I read about that isn't about direct intervention the way biofeedback is. Imaging a fire in a certain parts of the body would be an example.

I don't think it's as direct as biofeedback.

That it 'feels' direct once you have acquired the skill is an illusion in so far as any acquired skill appear easy once one has mastered it.

I don't think directness and easiness are the same thing.

I don't think so. The NLP technique anchor is to have an imagined symbol produce a conditioned emotional response. If you work well when creating an anchor you can basically do this to create any kind of emotional response.

It's still possible to do this in a second but visualizing a symbol still isn't doesn't feel as direct.

comment by Gunnar_Zarncke · 2015-03-22T20:51:03.083Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Sorry. I don't clearly understand your explanation. Is biofeedback more direct or not? I don't get the NLP anchor thing (I have no NLP background). Maybe giving a link to an NLP site would help.

comment by ChristianKl · 2015-03-23T11:39:14.829Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

NLP anchors are basically about using a conditioned response.

Pavlovs dogs salviate in response to the bell. The bell produces a bodily reaction. If you want to control your own state, then carrying a bell around with you is impractical. Visualized symbols are more practical because you can trigger them without needing to do anything externally.

Going through the intermediate step of the bell or a visualized symbol would be an indirect way to change bodily sensations. Biofeedback allows a practitioner to learn to have more direct control over a variable.

In NLP the creation of an anchor is usually done with a coach leading the process for another person. It's not something that's as easily done when you are alone. On the other hand once the anchor is there you can use it whenever you want. But you actually have to remember to use it which people often fail to do in high stress situations. I'm not sure whether it's useful to link you to some online description.

comment by Gunnar_Zarncke · 2015-03-23T23:06:24.229Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I'm not sure whether it's useful to link you to some online description.

I'm autodidact amd learn most things my reading and trying out. I admit that some things don't really work that way but I'd appreciate the link nonetheless.

comment by ChristianKl · 2015-03-23T23:18:30.552Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Chris Mulzer from whom I learned NLP has written in German 7 articles about anchoring (German: Ankern) under https://www.kikidan.com/bibliothek/nlp-grundlagen-techniken .

comment by [deleted] · 2015-03-22T09:52:11.846Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

In my experience (very mild compared to, say, rhino conservation), apprehending poachers/dealers in wildlife usually places you into Yellow situations, and one of the things you are never to allow to happen is letting it escalate further. It means that if you are not sure about what you face, you don't engage. Sometimes you will make mistakes and get some negative feedback. Then you have to keep as close to training as you can, bluff your ears off, and retreat safely. The first thing to do after it is review your mistakes, and it comes easily after some time, and it really helps to deal with the fear of turning your back on angry people.

comment by Gunnar_Zarncke · 2015-03-22T11:58:53.377Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Grossman names some professions that should never leave Condition Yellow:

  • Pilots

  • Negotiators

  • Bomb disposal experts

  • Hunters (the only everyday profession where you routinely have perceptual distortions like tunnel vision and esp. diminished sound (of the shot)

comment by [deleted] · 2015-03-22T12:12:18.652Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

That does seem like a rational quote material:) and makes Jedi style negotiations so strawman... I do wonder if such specialists have advantages/disadvantages compared to your regular civilian (as I have no idea about army men except 'they train') when they are forced beyond Yellow. I mean, being a negotiator doesn't protect you from natural disasters, etc. - does their training kick in (at least the feeling of if you fail, it's all your fault)?

comment by kevinpet · 2015-03-30T00:11:46.837Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I just registered to offer some perhaps not readily available information which may be relevant to your evaluation.

I heard Dave Grossman speak in person when I was in the Marines around 2005. I remember his emphasis on getting enough sleep, and less than 30 minutes at a stretch not being worthwhile, but I mostly remember my impression of a fanatic. By this I mean he did not come across as a rational person committed to introspection and careful evaluation of his own beliefs. The general opinion of a bunch of Marine combat veterans was that he was way too wound up and seemed on the verge of a nervous breakdown.

He started his talk with a story about how he won't take his granddaughter for a walk in the woods without his German Shepherd, a folding knife, and a concealed handgun. I can't say he's wrong, but I can say that whatever motivates Dave Grossman seems to lead to a view of the world that is very distant from what I think are rational behaviors.

comment by [deleted] · 2015-03-23T14:24:53.349Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Innoculate yourself against extreme stress with repeated authentic training; play win-only paintball, train 911-dialing and -reporting.

"The value of Boxing is not in the skill acquired, though that too has real value in hand-to-hand combat, but because it quickly acclimates the body and mind to the violence and shock so foreign to modern day youth, yet so absolutely essential to fighting men." Boxing manual of US Naval Institute, 1943 and I don't own a copy, I got this quote second-hand, cannot vouch for its authenticity.

But this is what I have figured out myself, too. I wanted to "man up", and in mind and heart, not only in body, as I used to be a bit of a body builder when I was young and I understood how looking like a warrior yet not being one can feel completely fake. And I tried to reduce and reduce the essence of manliness or heroism, I ended up with courage, and I asked myself what would be scariest thing I could expose myself to in order to develop my courage, and the answer was to expose myself to 100 punches / minute into the face in the sparring ring. Boxing is courage.zip, it is simply more intense psychologically that than any other martial art including MMA or BJJ or wrestling. The point is, it is not dangerous (on these very amateur levels, with head protection), but it feels so, and that is what matters.

Actually the idea of climbing rocks or parachuting scares me much more, but that is so much scare that I cannot overcome, I would just freeze, this much scare I can cope with and grow with.

The issue with paintball is that you know it cannot hurt you. Of all the possible forms of mostly safe violence you can consent to in order to develop courage, the one that both feels the most real, and is more or less actually real, and is very intense and fast, is a guy trying to beat your face flat in a boxing ring. It is hard to find any sport or activity that is closer to people really trying to hurt each other. For example, in wrestling practice, you know you are not getting hurt, just immobilized. And besides the "is actually real" factor, there is an even higher "feels real" factor: when people try to intimidate each other, they usually promise a knuckle sandwich, not a TKD kick or a grappling hold. So it inoculates against exactly that.

comment by Gunnar_Zarncke · 2015-03-23T23:51:30.443Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

This is a valid point. I just wonder how to limit the danger to the brain in boxing. I'd have suggested other martial arts that also provide experience with injuries but only of the fully healing kind (though I'm not clear on whether there may be long-term effects from any serious injury).

The issue with paintball is that you know it cannot hurt you.

Many things don't hurt people and they know it and they nonethesless fear it. I'm not sure this is a sufficient criteria.

I hear paintball can hurt bad if it hits you in the face. Not as bad a boxing probably though.

I did choose fencing. No injuries more serious then scratches and bruises. Fast piercing moves.

comment by [deleted] · 2015-03-24T07:40:22.145Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

This is a valid point. I just wonder how to limit the danger to the brain in boxing.

Just don't spend a whole life going against Evander Holyfield types without head protection. Amateur sparring level with headgear is safe enough. Same difference as Forma 1 racing vs. driving a Camry to work.

comment by tanagrabeast · 2015-03-24T00:54:39.943Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

If merely looking to elevate into yellow/red levels of arousal through safe means, let me suggest a digital approach: not "ego shooters" but rather 1 vs. 1 competitive Real-Time Strategy (RTS) vs. anonymous human opponents. I'm sure one can build up a tolerance, but a 2-month fling with Starcraft II taught me that stress gets amplified by the following:

1.Complex cognitive demands.

2.Knowing that no-one will come to your aid.

3.Feeling like your opponent has absolutely no reservations about eviscerating you (probably helped by not being able to see them)

I studied the game intently, advanced above the 50th percentile quickly... and had to give it up. By the end of each round I was often too shaky to manipulate my mouse. I would have to run in place and then pace for long periods to lower my heart rate. The clincher, though, was the impact on my temper. I would become enraged at little things, and the mindset could persist for 12 hours or more.

For me, playing felt too much like being a hunted animal. Interestingly, a friend of mine gave up the game for similar reasons -- but described his experience as feeling too predatory, like he was stalking and literally killing his opponents, with resulting damage to his own psyche.

He may have been better than I was.

comment by irrational_crank · 2015-03-29T23:14:28.239Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Upvoted for including counter-evidence in your post and changing your mind.

I was about to comment that adjusting the body's natural response might be dangerous if you ever did - after all presumably this system evolved to face pop-evo-psych cliches like the savannah lion and perhaps fleeing irrationally without thinking is probably the best thing to do in most of these cases. However, modern dangerous are different. For example, if you have fallen off a plane, you are more likely to survive while drunk or attempting suicide because your muscles are more relaxed and you don't panic on the landing and adopt a bad position. The savannah didn't have armed non-Pascal mugger's (which the best way out is probably not to fight or flight but to give him what he wants, unless your life depends on it), the option of calling 911, or machines that could instantaneously kill you from far away if they hit you in the right place, so it might be worth training to avoid the fight-or-flight mechanism in accordance with this post, even if it reduces reaction time if (the probability of you encountering one)*(utility you get from living) > (the opportunity cost of performing such training)