Chris Blattman

Heroes are born, not made

Professor Deane Aikins, a psychiatrist at Yale University, said a small minority of individuals remain cool even in the most stressful circumstances.

His findings, based on research with the military, found that some individuals did not panic because their body naturally protected them.

Unlike the majority of people who were flooded with a stress hormone, they had much lower levels and also showed signs of another hormone that actually calmed them down.

Full story in the Telegraph (hat tip to Post-Conflicted).

Now, I’m no brain scientist (now there’s an understatement) but isn’t it possible that life experiences and environment shape one’s chemical responses to stimuli? Scientists out there: we need your help.

5 Responses

  1. You may want to have a look at Andy Steptoe’s work on stress responsiveness, and how it varies with professional occupation, previous stress exposure, and other measured individual time-varying characteristics. ~Amar

  2. Hmmmm, maybe it is time to step outside the confines of the economics department? New Haven’s not that big, is it?

  3. Yes, it is uncontroversial that life experience and environment shape one’s chemical responses to stimuli. On the other hand, it also appears that genetics set the parameters within which we react to life experiences and environment. This stuff is complicated.

    I wonder a little bit, though, why you seem invested in an affirmative answer to your question. Historically, scientists have erred much too far on the nature side of the nurture/nature debate.

  4. Clearly, yes. To make an absurdum example, my response to chemicals would undoubtedly change if I went through the “life experience” of being shot to death.

    To explore a less extreme argument, the interpretation process one uses to determine that a situation is stressful must surely be a learned one. Thus, comparing people’s response to stress by putting them in the same objective situation may not be valid. Somehow we’d need to put them in a situation which each person finds equally stressful. That may not be possible.

    It reminds me of the ‘happiness’ research – it’s hard to know whether asking people “are you happy” is a valid basis for comparison.

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