Resisting Predators and Other Environmental Hazards

Although all previous hominids are now extinct, many of their adaptive ways to survive - craving a varied diet, producing tools to gather food, caring for one another, using fire for warmth and cooking - form the basis for our modern survival mechanism and are one of the defining features of our species.

Fighting Predators and Environmental Threats

Homo sapiens and our primate ancestors sought refuge not long ago under slanted roofs, in caves, and among tree branches. Exposed and relatively defenseless, our predecessors stand a good chance of being devoured by larger, meaner species. For most of our evolutionary history as primates, we were likelier to play Big Mac than Big Man on campus. Our ancestors evolved many traits to help them escape this fate, if not forever, at least long enough to reproduce and pass on their genes.

These reactions still shape how our bodies work today, which would be great if big cats were still stalking us. Carnivores hunt at night, and because humans have relatively poor eyesight in the dark, they are vulnerable to attack. Therefore, our ancestors always hid in the dark as the chances of becoming prey increased. The first people used fire to protect themselves from wild animals 12,000 years ago. Many primates emit specific alarm calls to different predators.

In addition to creating words for these predators, we respond in other ways. When we see or hear a sign of danger - a movement in the grass, a strange shadow - hormonal responses scream inside our bodies. These fight-or-flight responses make the heart beat faster, increase blood flow to the muscles, cause shortness of breath (for more oxygen to react quickly), and make us more likely to react quicker than the predator by looking for it.

Run away or the bravest throw the stick and run away. Fossil experts say the first humans hibernate. Evidence from bones found at one of the most important fossil sites in the world suggests that our ape predecessors may have coped with extreme cold hundreds of thousands of years ago by sleeping through the winter.

The ancestors of Homo sapiens migrated from the warm central regions of Africa to the northern latitudes of Europe and Eurasia, severely affected by falling temperatures. Armed with large creative brains and sophisticated tools, these early modern humans - physically similar to us - survived and thrived in their harsh environments. Humans began clearing forests to build houses and carved stone houses to protect them from the elements and store food. They also started making increasingly complex tools, such as simple machines, to do the work for them.

Fears, Anxieties, and Phobias

Fear is an evolutionary strategy that promotes survival; There are innate fears that are passed on to our children and grandchildren that will help future generations survive. Many of our fears today are inherited from our hunter-gatherer ancestors. Our ancestors lived in an environment of immediate benefit, in which they detected a threat and responded immediately. As hunting and hunting were integral to Homo sapiens society, we most likely learned a fear of predators and tactics to avoid them.

For example, fear of the dark stems from an evolutionary instinct that began at night when humans switched from predator to prey. Predators hunt at night, and because humans have relatively poor eyesight in the dark, they are very vulnerable to attack. Therefore, our ancestors always hid in the dark as the chances of becoming prey increased.

Anxiety first appeared to protect people against the present danger. Fast-forward to modern times, and our need to protect ourselves from predators are gone. Some of these instincts are still embedded in our program. From an evolutionary perspective, the brain mechanisms involved in fear are designed by natural selection to respond to these threats. Our ancestors may have faced a list of dangers, including snakes, spiders, heights, darkness, and strangers.

Our ancestors' concern about dangerous stimuli like these has been passed on to modern humans. Early primates likely had an ingrained fear of snakes that they passed on to their evolutionary descendants. Fear of heights is another common phobia.

Marks and Bracha outline six ways in which fear and anxiety can afford protection −

  • Freezing − This response supports the careful evaluation of the situation, assists in concealment from the predator, and can occasionally prevent an aggressive attack. Frozen may be preferable to striking out or escaping if you are unsure if you have been discovered or cannot quickly locate the predator.

  • Fleeing − This reaction keeps the organism away from specific hazards. For example, fleeing may be the most straightforward and safest approach to avoid a lethal bite when confronted with a snake.

  • Fighting − Hitting, beating, or striking a dangerous predator may result in the threat being destroyed or fleeing. This defense technique determines whether the predator can be successfully vanquished or repelled. A spider is more readily smashed than a hungry bear.

  • Surrender or appeasement − This approach is most effective when the danger is a member of the same species. Submissive greetings to the alpha male effectively prevent a violent attack on chimps. The same might be said about people. According to recent theory and evidence, two different developed behavioral reactions in response to an acute threat.

  • Fright − A reaction in which the individual "plays dead" by remaining immovable. The adaptive advantage of being immobile occurs when escaping or fighting is ineffective, such as when the predator is too swift or too decisive. Predators are sensitive to mobility by potential prey and may lose interest in prey that remains stationary for an extended period. By "playing dead," the predator may lessen its grasp, maybe allowing for escape.

  • Faint − Loss of consciousness to alert an assailant that you are not a threat. Fainting in response to the sight of blood or a sharp blade is thought to aid noncombatants in conflict, such as women and children, "nonverbally indicate to opponents that one was not an imminent threat and could be safely disregarded." As a result, fainting may have boosted the noncombatant's odds of surviving violent fights that were predicted to be widespread throughout human development. If this hypothesis is correct, women and children are more prone than males to faint when they see blood, and research supports this prediction.

Children's Antipredator Adaptations

Predators are believed to have been a recurring survival threat throughout human evolution. Lions, tigers, leopards, and hyenas are among the most dangerous carnivores, as are crocodiles and pythons (Brantingham, 1998). Assessments of the severity and frequency of predator interactions are inherently hypothetical.

However, damage to ancient bones, such as puncture scars on hominid skulls that correlate closely to leopard teeth, indicate that human predecessors were preyed upon. Recently, a study of the causes of mortality among Ache foragers in Paraguay indicated that jaguars devoured 6% of and 12% perished from snakebites. Considering these survival challenges, it would be incredible if natural selection had not developed anti-predator adaptations in humans.

Although children's fear of animals is undoubtedly a protective strategy, a recent study has focused on the information-processing systems necessary to escape predators. Barrett and his colleagues contend that children must have at least three cognitive skills −

  • A category of "predator" or "dangerous animal" that serves as the foundation of an antipredator defense;

  • The inference that predators have motivations or "desires" to eat prey, which leads to predictions of the predator's behavior (e.g., if the predator is hungry and sees prey, it will chase and try to kill prey); and

  • A realization that death is a probable result of contact with a predator.

Understanding death requires understanding that the dead prey cannot act and that this loss is permanent and irrevocable.

Role of Evolutionary Memory

Primitive humans developed new modes of representation of themselves and others: a social-subject system. As these new avatars began interacting with the older images, our ancestors developed a sense of participation in events and knowing the facts, features of autobiographical memories, and knowledge. Some evidence strongly suggests that both human and non-human primates are phylogenetically predisposed to acquire fear and obsession with certain fear-related stimuli that may have once posed a threat to their original ancestors.

Although the mechanism by which these developing memories are expressed in the brain is still poorly understood, these selective associations mediate the distribution of fears and phobias. Non-random images are observed clinically. If natural selection involves identifying objects and situations likely to become sources of fear and phobia, as suggested by research on selection associations, so do others-examined the possibility that it also contributes to shaping memory processes that favor fear retention and over-generalization over time.

Survival treatment efficiency is best viewed in the context of survival optimization systems in general, designed by nature to help organisms cope with survival challenges. An essential element of survivability optimization is the ability to simulate activities that help prevent or evade future threats, which, in turn, depend significantly on accurate retrospective memorization—information related to survival.


Many of our fears today are inherited from our hunter-gatherer ancestors. Our ancestors lived in an immediate response environment, detecting threats and reacting immediately. As hunting and hunting was an integral part of Homo sapiens society, we most likely learned a fear of predators and tactics to avoid them.

Updated on: 12-Apr-2023


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