The Instinct to Go Limp: A Surprising Approach to Preventing Injury

Charlotte Martin

Updated Wednesday, April 3, 2024 at 12:57 AM CDT

The Instinct to Go Limp: A Surprising Approach to Preventing Injury

The Natural Instinct to Catch Ourselves

When faced with a fall or crash, our natural instinct is to tense up and catch ourselves. This instinct stems from our evolutionary adaptation to being able to prevent falls in the forest. However, in high-speed collisions, this reflex can actually increase the risk of injury. Tensing up and trying to catch oneself with the arms may result in muscle tears or bone fractures.

Going Limp: A Modern Solution

Contrary to our instinctive reaction, going limp can be more effective in preventing injury in situations where the body is unable to stop a fall or crash with its muscles. In modern times, with safety features such as airbags and seat belts, going limp allows these protective measures to absorb the impact and reduce the risk of serious injury.

In fact, modern medicine has extended the potential survival time for individuals who go limp during falls or crashes. By remaining limp and relying on safety features, the force of the impact is distributed more evenly, reducing the chances of severe injuries.

The Evolutionary Aspect

The instinct to catch oneself and tense up during a fall is deeply ingrained in our primitive brain. This instinct developed long before our brains evolved to their current intellectual capacity. Our instinctive reactions to life-threatening fear come from a primitive area of the brain that was hardwired for survival.

However, our ability to analyze and learn new facts about ourselves is separate from these instinctive reactions. Our instincts aim to avoid injury entirely rather than minimizing it. This is because in the past, broken limbs could have been just as deadly as shattered skulls. The instinct to avoid injury entirely by catching oneself or bracing was favored.

The Role of Evolution

While immediate survival is crucial, the goal of evolution is to favor those who can survive over longer periods. Individuals must not only survive but also remain healthy enough to continue providing for themselves and passing down their genes. Broken limbs or internal injuries can hinder an individual's ability to do so.

Furthermore, there is little selective pressure for the instinct to change, as very few people would reproduce based on their ability to go limp during falls. Therefore, the instinct to tense up and catch oneself remains prevalent despite the potential benefits of going limp in certain situations.

The Importance of Dodging and Bracing

Dodging, bracing, and tensing up are still valuable protective mechanisms in many situations. These instincts safeguard vital organs and offer a better chance of resolving danger and avoiding injury. However, in scenarios involving high-speed collisions or falls from heights, going limp can be a more effective approach to preventing severe injuries.

While our natural instinct is to tense up and catch ourselves during falls or crashes, there are situations where going limp can prevent injury more effectively. Modern safety features and advancements in medicine have extended the potential survival time for individuals who go limp. However, it's important to remember that our instincts are not calibrated to minimize injury but to avoid it entirely. By understanding the evolutionary aspect and the goal of evolution, we can better comprehend why our instinctive reactions may not always align with the best course of action in certain scenarios.

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