Coming Right For Us
June 24, 2014

Coming Right For Us

Have you ever had something or someone approach you suddenly? It takes you by surprise. Puts you on edge. You can usually feel that “fight or flight” response kick in and prepare you for the worst. Happens to me all the time. I do not like being approached by people I do not know, and I like being touched by them even less. The other day my roommate and I went out to a burger-place for lunch. While there, an older man seemed to take note of me and began asking me all sorts of questions regarding if I played football or not. I am a big guy, so many people have assumed that. Being polite, I tell him now and go back to eating. He does not stop. He keeps talking and talking, eventually rising from his seat and moving over to me. Immediately I felt the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end. My legs muscles tightened as they prepared to vault me out of my seat if necessary and my eyes tracked the guy’s every move. It took every ounce of self-control not to jerk away when he stopped, patted my shoulder, muttered something, and kept going.

So much for enjoying that Whopper.

According to Professor Christopher K. Hsee of the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, humans have negative feelings regarding things approaching us that date back to our ancient ancestors who learned the hard way that things coming at them were more often a danger than those moving away. A charging tiger, after all, is a much more real threat than one walking away from you. According to Professor Hsee, “In order to survive, humans have developed a tendency to guard against animals, people, and objects that come near them. This is true for things that are physically coming closer, but also for events that are approaching in time or increasing in likelihood.”

This fear, which Professor Hsee and his team call “approach avoidance” is believed to be an innate tendency of humans. Testing this, the team conducted eight experiments to try and support their thesis regarding this fear. What they found was that even docile creatures, such as a deer, had fear associated with them as they approached as even these creatures could induce uncertainty due to being both unusual for the subjects to experience and the fact that it was still a wild animal.

Interestingly enough, this study has a lot of practical applications in various fields, such as marketing — which sound not come as a surprise considering this study comes from a school of business. Companies can use this data to determine if it would be more beneficial to have their product move closer to viewers of their advertisement in a commercial, or if this would cause the viewer to experience unwelcome sensations of fear/uncertainly and damage the products image overall. Similarly, public speaks have a tendency to approach their audiences during speeches. This should also be reconsidered, as it can make their listeners uncomfortable. Knowing what can set of our most primal instincts is a useful tool in almost any situation in which you deal with others.

“Approach avoidance is a general tendency, humans don’t seem to adequately distinguish between times they should use it when they should not,” Professor Hsee added. “They tend to fear approaching things and looming events even if objectively they need not fear.”

Image Credit: Thinkstock

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