The fight or flight syndrome or, 'fight or flight reflex', happens when a person experiences drastic bodily changes when presented with a threat. It is important that those in law enforcement in particular recognize this condition, and know how to respond to someone experiencing it.
Although most people could recognize the physiological changes in individuals faced with danger, the concept really wasn't developed (and the name "fight or flight" coined) until psychologist Walter Canon described it in the 1920s. Canon made some unique observations about the connection between bodily functions in extreme emotions.
Fight or flight initiates in an area of the brain that is mediated by primitive or instinctual thoughts and emotions. The brain goes about its business in a normal manner until a novel stimulus is presented. This stimulus goes from the sensory cortex and eventually the brain stem. When a person is faced with a perceived life-threatening crisis, certain bodily functions are attenuated while others temporarily cease.
The activation of the sympathetic nervous system includes response from the adrenal medulla, the part of the brain that puts adrenaline into the bloodstream. The adrenal medulla secretes epinephrine and norepinephrine, and the body goes into alert mode in seconds.
The Rube Goldberg effect to the human body continues. The heartbeat increases and blood pressure rises. The respiratory system experiences a rapid improvement in efficiency as airway passages dilate and oxygen is exchanged at a rapid rate. Peripheral blood vessels constrict as blood is shunted from skin and external areas and moved towards skeletal muscles. Digestive muscles halt their rhythmic contraction of peristalsis, prioritizing bodily functions to the body's immediate need. The liver begins converting glycogen to glucose, adding to the instant energy equation. Besides increased strength, an individual's face might have a blushed appearance, owing to the blood moving away from the skin surface and rushing to the vital organs that need it most, including the brain.
Finally, the pupils dilate and the cilia behind them accommodate to improve visual acuity.
The officer with this response has a surge of strength that does not match his usual output. It reduces his ability to perform fine motor skills, but increases his overall speed, power and fatigue reduction of skeletal muscles.
The reduction in fine motor skills is quite pronounced. Officers interviewed following shooting or hand-to-hand incidents have reported an inability to write in their notepads, button their shirts or insert their keys in the ignition. However, the officer may have flung someone his or her own body weight, forced open a heavy door or sprinted beyond the normal range of speed.Train for it
Tactical trainers have become intelligent in the gross/fine motor skill disparity. Intricate defensive tactic movements are less useful than take downs, and firearms trainers use body indexing movements like placing the fingertip on the front side of the magazine when performing a reload. Administrators should consider what training systems are used to train their officers and how useful they will be when fine manipulation skills are limited. For example, martial arts instructors teaching students to kick a knife out of the hand of an assailant is unreasonable.
Avoid safety equipment that requires fine motor manipulation to make it work. For example, do not issue a flashlight requiring the beam to be adjusted each time it is turned on, and avoid devices that rely on tactile ability alone. An example of this is a remote illumination switch on a shotgun. If it can get caught somewhere and render the light useless, use another method.
Training should include startle response safe handling of firearms. To a individuals with adrenaline in their system, a 15-pound long trigger pull is unnoticeable. Train with the finger off the trigger and immediately correct any officer who does not comply.