The fear machine | American Council for Science and Health



We are born with certain instinctive behaviors. By all means, we all have a fight or flight instinct in the face of danger. Can we all agree that when we fear for our lives we all fight or run away?


Although it has many names, there is a consistent underlying physiological response. Our sympathetic nervous system prepares us among other changes:

Speed ​​up our heart, increase its capacity to contract and increase and deepen our breaths to provide unlimited oxygen.

  • Direct blood to our muscles, reduce the flow of our gastrointestinal tract
  • Reduce our vision and hearing to focus on our perceived danger
  • Release energy to make it quickly available to our muscles

It also changes our emotions and thoughts

  • The greater the intensity of our emotional response, the more likely we are to feel anxious or aggressive.
  • We pay more attention to negative stimuli that signal danger. This attention includes increased recall of negative words and the perception of uncertainty as dangerous.
  • It changes our perception of control, some find themselves empowered, others disabled

Fighting or running away has garnered a lot of attention, but this is only the first step in what is described as a general adaptive response that arose out of the work of Hans Selye. [1]. Fight or Flee was followed by a transition phase as the body’s homeostatic mechanism attempted to counter the previous “shock” phase. One of two possible pathways would follow in the final resolution phase – either homeostasis would allow balanced recovery or these physiological responses would continue until exhaustion, leaving the body more susceptible and less resistant to further bouts of combat. or leak. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is in many ways the exhaustion phase of the general adaptation response.


We are no longer on the savannah. Although lions and rhinos can still kill us, they are not dreaded animals that we encounter in our daily lives. On a daily basis, we might encounter a rat, spider, or snake, and for many of us, a fight-or-flight response will be triggered. There is another innate and hard-wired trait; we are social creatures, like all of our primate ancestors and relatives. We are tribes, although renamed family and friends. Again, we are afraid for reasons that we may never fully understand, of “others”, those outside of our tribe. And because it is partly a cultural heritage, the “other” varies from tribe to tribe.

Among the alterations in our stress-induced emotions and thoughts was the increased recall of negative words, words reflecting danger. It is not difficult to understand how words that have a clear social origin can reflect culturally inherited fears.

The fear machine

The underlying purpose of internet media is to grab your attention while delivering ads, likes, shares, whatever keeps you on their page. It’s not just about social media, but the digital versions of newspapers and magazines that were in the realm of attention long before Twitter was an idea or Mark Zuckerberg was born. All of these media use optimized algorithms to maintain your focus, offering a variety of “if you like this, you will like, or maybe like, that”.

We are not programmed to give our full attention to happiness; as Joni Mitchell said, “you don’t know what you have until he’s gone.” But we’re wired to face danger – “if it bleeds, it leads”. The media that deliver our news drive us crazy. He does this by constantly eliciting our fight or by fleeing the response by signaling danger. Signals include the easily appreciated information, such as “breaking news”, and the more subtle ones, repeating the same information packets causing emotions over a 20 or 30 minute cycle.

Our two-million-year-old instincts to fight or flee in the face of danger are no match for a 24-hour news cycle. And let’s be honest, you don’t need to know anything right away other than what will directly affect you, inclement weather, traffic issues, or the rogue mall shooter. Hearing five times a day the mandate of the mask or the final thoughts of DeSantis governors or Abbot or Dr Fauci does not advance your knowledge, but it, because of the way you choose your media, causes a backlash. stress. The internet drives us mad by creating continuous stress – in our adaptive response; we are exhausted – the internet as a medium causes us all some form of PTSD.

Review the physiology of stress. Beware of negative words, interpreting uncertainty as a danger (and with a new virus in pandemic mode, much more is uncertain than known). Changes in the function of our heart increase our blood pressure, the effects on our metabolism promote higher blood sugar. It would be hard to argue that the internet causes hypertension or increased insulin resistance in type II diabetes. But that said, many studies have suggested that chronic stress plays a role in both of these conditions. Could it be that the internet, or at least the way we have shaped it to communicate with each other, is a risk to public health?

In my opinion, we don’t need Big Tech to become corporate censors. We need Big Tech to turn off the algorithms that catch our attention. Instead of algorithmically serving another bundle of fear news, hand control of the news feed back to the individual. Let them find the news on their own. I bet we stay just as informed and a lot less stressed.

[1] With full transparency, Selye acted as an expert on tobacco law, advocating against health warnings and limits on nicotine and tar. He received undisclosed research grants from Philip Morris. This unethical behavior should not interfere with his much older job.


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