The Jeff Wise Blog

Das Buch ist in deutscher Sprache!

According to Google Translate, that’s German for “The book is in German.” By which I mean that I just learned that the German edition of Extreme Fear will be on shelves April 26. Unglaublich!

Interestingly, the Amazon page indicates that book was translated “from the American” by Stefanie Schaeffler. Hopefully the original is intelligible to English-speakers as well.

Filed under: Extreme Fear

Cutest Psychology Experiment EVER

For anyone interested in psychology, having a child is a fascinating experience, turning us all into amateur Jean Piagets. Having just written a book about the interplay between the frontal cortex and the amygdala (among other things), it was extremely interesting to observe a human being who had seemingly very little frontal cortex activity at all. Whatever he was feeling, boom, there it was on his face, no modulation or suppression at all. As a baby he could go through a dozen distinct facial expressions in the span of a minute.

Now that Rem is a year and a half, he’s exhibiting new and fascinating behaviors all the time. Just the other day he busted out with a move that was simultaneously hilarious and baffling. Once I figured it out, it blew my mind. Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Children

How a Peaceful Crowd Turns Into a Lethal Stampede

Few things are as bafflingly tragic as the mass death that can occur when a crowd of people becomes overcome by panic and stampedes within a confined space. As I’ve written earlier, in many cases of mass panic individual members of a crowd do not themselves act irrationally. However, in the case of a stampede the crowd truly seems to leave its senses, becoming a heaving mass in which rational behavior by an individual becomes impossible. The result can be truly horrific — in some cases, over 1,000 people have died in the ensuing crush.

Compounding the awfulness is the fact that in many cases the stampede is triggered by no actual danger. It seems that, in certain settings, a crowd that grows to a critical density reaches a critical state at which the slightest twitch is sufficient to send it into a stampede — like a supercooled drop of water that just needs the tiniest seed to instantly freeze.

The toll in human lives is immense: in the past decade there have been over 100 stampede events resulting in mass fatalities.  Yet there has been surprisingly little study has been done into the phenomenon. I was delighted, then, to learn via @bengoldacre of an absolutely fascinating new paper from Ed Hsu and colleagues at Johns Hopkins:  “Epidemiological Characteristics of Human Stampedes.” I emailed Dr. Hsu and he sent me copies of the paper, along with another, “Human Stampedes: A Systematic Review Historical and Peer-Reviewed Sources,” that further elaborated his team’s findings.

The papers are chockablock with intriguing findings, but here are some of the highlights: Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Panic

Top 7 Management Secrets of Blackbeard the Pirate

Peter Leeson does not talk like a pirate. But the George Mason University economist has figured out how to think like one. In his book The Invisible Hook, Leeson argues that, despite their reputation as anarchic ne’er-do-wells, 18th-century pirates roamed the seas in pursuit of rational economic goals. In fact, they had a lot in common with small business people of today. “They were profit-motivated,” Leeson says, “and they confronted obstacles that a lot of modern small businesses also confront in their attempt to pursue profits.” There’s plenty that today’s managers can learn from the scurvy dogs of yore. Here are the top seven tips: Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Business

Do Toyota Drivers Suffer From Faulty Brakes, or Errant Panic Circuitry?

At first, it sounded like a straightforward case of a faulty product in need of a recall. Last summer, Toyota “‘became aware of rare cases where the accelerator pedal did not return to its idle position as swiftly as it ideally should.” It started changing the way it produced the pedals in question. Then, when it realized that further design issues could cause problems, it recalled 4.2 million vehicles. But the automaker’s problems didn’t go away. Within months, it realized that another problem with the pedals’ design could cause them to stick, and so started a recall of another 2.4 million vehicles.

Here’s where things began to get strange. Even as Toyota moved to correct problems with its accelerators, reports of malfunctions skyrocketed. Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Panic

5 Best Sports Fantasy Getaways

As I’ve written earlier, pushing your boundaries on vacation is a way to make your whole experience more memorable. I can’t think of a more enjoyable way to do that than by playing ball with one of your sports heroes — or by carving  turns, paddling a whitewater river, or surfing a wave with a legendary athlete. Here are five ways to make the magic happen:

  • Surfing. Hit the waves on Costa Rica’s legendary Tamarindo beach with famed shredder Robert “Wingnut” Weaver.
  • Baseball. Since 2005, the Baseball Hall of Fame has held a yearly fantasy camp each October in upstate New York where participants get to play baseball with former pros such as George Brett and Ozzie Smith.
  • Tennis. There are at least a dozen events around the world scattered throughout the year where guests can play tennis with their retired heroes and heroines.
  • Sailing. Every year at the end of October the Bitter End Yacht Club in the British Virgin Islands hosts a Pro Am Regatta, where amateur sailors get to take to the waves alongside some of the sport’s biggest names.
  • Dogsledding. Austin’s Alaskan Adventures runs seven-day trips during which you can mush your own dog team under the tutelage of Jerry Austin, an Iditarod Hall-of-Famer.
pushing your boundaries on vacation is a way to make your whole experience more memorable. I can’t think of a more enjoyable way to do that than by playing ball with one of your sports heroes

Filed under: sports

A Strange Calm in a Sea of Danger

An uncanny thing about life-or-death crises is how often those in them don’t feel fear. Time and again, I’ve heard from people who’ve had a close brush with death and didn’t experience any emotion at all. In the moment, they felt calm and focused. Everything seemed crystal clear. They saw what they needed to do and they did it. Only afterward, when they found themselves in a place of safety, did they become overwhelmed with emotion.

In the book I tell the story of Johan Otter, who was hiking in Glacier National Park with his daughter when they were attacked by a grizzly. Stepping between the bear and his child, he fought it off as best he could until he felt the animal’s massive jaws locked on his head. “I felt a tooth going into my skull and I thought, ‘This is going to be it.’” Otter says. Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Animal attack

How the Brain Stops Time

One of the strangest side-effects of intense fear is time dilation, the apparent slowing-down of time. It’s a common trope in movies and TV shows, like the memorable scene from The Matrix in which time slows down so dramatically that bullets fired at the hero seem to move at a walking pace. In real life, our perceptions aren’t keyed up quite that dramatically, but survivors of life-and-death situations often report that things seem to take longer to happen, objects  fall more slowly, and they’re capable of complex thoughts in what would normally be the blink of an eye.

Now a research team from Israel reports that not only does time slow down, but that it slows down more for some than for others. Anxious people, they found, experience greater time dilation in response to the same threat stimuli.

An intriguing result, and one that raises a more fundamental question: how, exactly, does the brain carry out this remarkable feat? Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Extreme Fear

Who’s Afraid of the Big, Bad Wolf?

Few animals arouse as much passion, both for and against, as the wolf. Spend some time in ranching country and you’ll quickly find that many consider the animal not only economically costly but downright evil. Conservationists, on the other hand, marvel at the complex social lives and admirable adaptability of a creature closely related to our beloved pet dogs. One thing both sides agreed on was that wolves posed no real threat to human beings, at least in North America. Since the earliest days of European colonization, there have been no recorded killings of people by wild wolves on the continent. (Domesticated wolves are another matter.) Until now. According to a report in the Huffington Post, wolves in southern Alaska appear to have ended their streak of good behavior towards us humans:

Wolves likely killed a teacher jogging alone along a rural Alaska village road, public safety officials said Thursday. The Alaska State Medical Examiner listed “multiple injuries due to animal mauling” as the cause of death for Candice Berner, 32, a special education teacher from Pennsylvania who began working in Alaska in August. Her body was found off the road a mile outside the village of Chignik Lake on the Alaska Peninsula, which is about 474 miles southwest of Anchorage.

I suspect that how you take this news will depend entirely on how you viewed wolves beforehand. For wolf-haters, it’s yet more evidence of their nastiness. For wolf-lovers, a lone data point that by itself does little to change our overall perspective on wolves and their behavior. For everyone, though, a reminder that nature must be treated with respect, and that wild animals have a knack for upsetting our received notions of how they should act.

Filed under: Animal attack

“I Didn’t Jump, I Was Pushed”

South African student parachutist Lareece Butler was on a training jump on Monday when, according to the UK Telegraph, her chute got tangled and she plummeted to earth at high speed. She wound up with a concussion, a broken leg, and a busted pelvis. Doctors called her survival “a miracle.” That’s bad enough, but in the aftermath the woman’s aunt told the paper that Butler hadn’t jumped out of the plane at all. She’d been pushed. Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Recreation

Thinking About Fear & the Brain

If I find myself in a severe crisis, will I be able to keep it together? How can I control anxiety and panic? Is it possible to lead a life less bounded by fear? These are the sorts of questions that I'll be exploring in this blog, an offshoot of my book, Extreme Fear: The Science of Your Mind in Danger, published on December 8, 2009 by Palgrave Macmillan.

Video Introduction

Also by Jeff Wise