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Are we the offspring of the most afraid humans?

Why is it that humans tend to be so afraid of new things and change? We can even ask, why are we simply afraid of bad things happening and remember the bad more than the good?

Writers are often inspired, especially in film, by recent psychological research studies. The animated movie The Croods (2013) is one  example where art imitates life and a writer explores a shared human experience: FEAR.

In the movie, a family of cave people are lead by a father continually teaching that everything is dangerous and “fear is survival”. The hero, of course, is the one who rebels against this teaching. A hero in that she is more like how many of us would like to be. Watch this fun trailer to learn more about your biological drive to avoid any chance of pain.

The Croods (2013) trailer

The creation story of some religions has taught us that we are the offspring related to a murderous person (Cain) and that man’s struggles with good and evil are what drive us. A more recent theory in psychology, “Negativity Bias” is suggesting that our evolution, our biological drive to survive, may mean we are the offspring of the most afraid humans, like the father of The Croods. In 2001, researchers at University of Pennsylvania &  Case Western Reserve University independently found that the participants tended to make painful memories more important and pleasurable memories much smaller in comparison. This BIAS towards holding on to pain, to avoid it in the future, may trace back to our genetic past.

When we think of Natural Selection, the offspring that has the most potential for survival tends to be able to reproduce the most. Just as a white bear could hunt better when snow came to that part of the earth, and brown bears were seen too easily to hunt, the humans that hid out in caves, that avoided anything that could hurt survival, may have been the ones that survived the most. The brave humans would tend to take too many risks and die, not being able to produce offspring or stay around to protect them.

What do we DO with this? Well, often awareness is curative! Just having awareness, mindfulness, when your mind focuses on the pain of the past or is afraid of taking action, think of “Grug”, the father of the Croods. Notice if you’re trusting your cave mind OR the true present moment. When you feel that tiny bit of fear, imagine yourself as Grug’s grandchild, even more afraid than him, with a protruding brow and a 10,000 year old brain.

Grug – our great, great, grandfather


Rather than abusing that part of yourself, trying to shame it or beat it up, just have compassion for it, as in mindfulness meditation. Give your inner cave person a hug and thank it for trying to protect you from saber tooth tigers, woolly mammoths, and solar eclipses thousands of years ago. Notice that mind will take one argument you have with your spouse and make it huge compared to all those times you shared love. It will take one unexpected bill and generate fear like a lion is coming to eat you. Remember that the inner cave person will try to tell you, “YOU’RE IN DANGER” and even make up danger at the slightest thing that doesn’t match what you expect.

Courage is knowing what to be afraid of.” ~ Socrates

As the hero in the movie does, listen more to your evolved brain of curiosity. Fear is very subtle. Maybe you like jumping out of airplanes but you feel terrible at the thought your mate could leave you. I’ve walked across hot coals many times and think that’s fun, but the sound of a buzzing bee still reminds my inner cave boy of the time when I was 5 that I stumbled on a bee hive and got multiple stings. Just having the few seconds to feel the fear, notice the inner cave person making everything into non-survival, and get a little curious about what you can LEARN from the current situation.

Got examples of your inner cave person fears and what you’ve done to change them? Please do share in the comments!

{ 2 comments… add one }
  • Ulli July 31, 2014, 9:20 pm

    In another study I was reading that for every negative thought we need to produce at least 3 positive ones to overcome the negativity. 5 is even better. Thanks for the blog!

  • Erol Fox August 1, 2014, 8:30 am

    Thanks Ulli!
    That study may suggest that our generic bias toward magnifying negative thoughts can be overcome then, with attention and conditioning.

    Like working out a body biased toward fatty foods and sugar, once momentum starts, it takes little energy.

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