Understanding how our brain responds in moments of danger is an important topic in psychology and evolutionary biology. In addition to the ‘fight or flight’ response during danger, we sometimes encounter an unexpected reaction: freezing. This is a very special defense mechanism of our brain and body, and it is one of the crucial factors that help us survive.

Brain’s Response to Shock

Why Does Our Brain Freeze in Shock? Science Explains

When danger is perceived, the amygdala in our brain immediately becomes active. The amygdala is the center of our emotional responses and sends the ‘fight or flight’ signal to the body during danger. However, in some situations, these two options may not be possible or effective. That’s when ‘freezing’ comes into play. Especially if the danger is too great or there is no apparent escape route, our brain employs this third option.

Evolutionary Origin and Physiology of Freezing

Why Does Our Brain Freeze in Shock? Science Explains

The freezing response has evolved as a strategy to hide from large predators. Since predators respond quicker to moving objects, remaining motionless can sometimes be the safest option. This response has evolved to allow waiting out the danger without attracting the predator’s attention.

Adrenaline is Released in Shock Situations, Heart Rate Increases

Why Does Our Brain Freeze in Shock? Science Explains

Physiologically, adrenaline is released during shock, and as a result, heart rate increases, and more blood is pumped to the muscles. Subsequently, the parasympathetic nervous system also kicks in and begins to calm the body down. These conflicting effects cause muscle tension and immobility, determining the best course of action while ensuring the body’s safety in a dangerous situation.

Freezing Helps Us Process Unexpected Situations

Psychologically, during a freeze moment, the brain gains time to process a sudden and unexpected situation. This duration helps in making the best decision on how to react to danger. Additionally, not remembering or barely remembering traumatic moments serves as a psychological health protection mechanism.

In conclusion, freezing is not only a survival mechanism from the past but also a complex, evolutionarily and biologically developed defense strategy that helps us survive today. When you find yourself freezing in a dangerous situation, remember that this response is one of your body’s and brain’s ways of protecting you.

Source:  National Library of Medicine

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