Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Primal Threat Indicators *(reading the level of intent)

If you've ever watched the television series 'Lie To Me', you would have seen some interesting insights into reading body-language and micro facial expressions.  These are both valuable tools that can help in conflict avoidance.

This post is about a primal expression of body-language that comes down to one simple principle.  Let's call it the inside/outside threat indicator... and it works like this :
  • threatening gestures that are displayed inside the body's frame express a serious intent, and a confidence to carry out the threat (see photo above) 
  • threatening gestures that are displayed outside the body's frame express a lack of confidence in the person's ability to carry out the threat.

Look at the photo below (from Lie To Me).  The aggressor in this case is holding his firearm inside his body's frame, his body is turned side-on to minimise body targets, and his mouth is straight and emotionless. This primal threat indicator sends the message that he is very serious in his intent.

It would be a very different message if he was extending his firearm outside his body's frame (gangsta style), and shouting verbal threats.  That would indicate an attempt to intimidate, rather than shoot.  He would still be potentially dangerous, but basically he would be trying to frighten people into not opposing him!

Such a primal display of aggression is common in all primates.  To understand what I mean, imagine a monkey jumping around, waving a stick, and screaming loudly. The monkey doesn't really want to fight (in case it gets injured or killed), so it tries to avoid a physical confrontation by using bigthreatening gestures and lots of noise.

Here's a story that highlights how the tactic of using a primal threat indicator can be used to actually de-escalate a confrontation.....

A friend of mine was involved in a road rage incident. He was an experienced martial artist and streetfighter, so he was no stranger to threats of violence.

When the other driver got out of his car he raised an iron bar outside of his body's frame, and moved towards my friend with an aggressive scowl on his face.
However my friend simply took a short step forward, pointed at him and confidently announced "If you don't put that down I'll take it off you and shove it up your a#se." 
In response the other driver lowered his weapon and said "I'm going to call the police on you!"
So why did the attacker back down so easilly?  Because he was all bluff and bluster.... and he knew he was. He was like a monkey waving a stick and trying to intimidate... but not really confident in his ability to carry out his threat.
My friend on the other hand, turned his body side-on, leaned forward, pointed a finger from inside his body's frame (a stabbing intent), and spoke in a cold and confident manner. 
It was a primal threat indicator that sent a clear message that he was ready to physically engage his opponent... regardless of the fact that he was armed.


Here's another story that highlights a similar de-escalation....
A martial arts instructor I know was walking home from gym one night, carrying a gym bag in one hand, and an umbrella in the other.  He was walking down a street that's popular with prostitutes and druggies, when a young man approached him with his head down... not looking where he was going.
As they got close, the martial artist side-stepped the young man, but gently used his umbrella to simultaneously guide him away and avoid physical contact.
The young man stopped and turned around with a tirade of verbal abuse.  He then extended his arms out to the sides (a primal display of aggressive intimidation), and started shouting threats.
In response the martial artist simply took a short step forward, lowered his chin, pointed his umbrella at the young man's face and confidently shouted "Hey!" 
In response the young man started apologising... then turned and walked away.
Why did he back-down so quickly?  Well let's look at the primal threat indicators:
  • firstly, the martial arts instructor took a short step forward which turned his body side-on and showed his opponent that he was prepared to engage *(this is also a tactic in Japanese sword combat)
  • secondly, he raised his umbrella inside his body's frame and pointed it at his opponent's face *(another sword combat tactic)
  • thirdly, he used a loud and confident shout, which was a clear indication that he wasn't intimidated by the young man's bluff and bluster.

It's Primal Protection.
 For more insight into using primal threat indicators as a de-escalation tactic, click on this link :

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