Journalist and author Jon Ronson here describes how he experienced the physical reaction to a shock, a reaction which - according to Robert Hare, professor in clinical psychology - is quite common and normal. I had to bring it here because it's been in my thoughts since I read it about a week ago, and I still wonder if it really is normal, if this really is how most people react in situations like the one in this description...
On the last [day] Bob [Hare] surprised [the workshop attenders] by unexpectedly flashing onto the screen a large-scale, close-up photograph of a man who'd been shot in the face at very close range. This came after he'd lulled us into a false sense of security by flashing photographs of ducks on pretty lakes and summer days in the park. But in this picture, gore and gristle bubbled everywhere. The man's eyes had bulged all the way out of their sockets. His nose was gone.
'Oh GOD,' I thought.
An instant later my body responded to the shock by feeling prickly and jangly and weak and debilitated. This sensation, Bob said, was a result of our amygdalae and our central nervous system shooting signals of distress up and down to each other. It's the feeling we get when we're suddenly startled -- like when a figure jumps out at us in the dark -- or when we realize we've done something terrible, the feeling of fear and guilt and remorse, the physical manifestation of our conscience.
The quote is taken from Jon Ronson's book 'The Psychopath Test' which I have written about in an earlier article. It describes an event that Ronson experienced during a 3-day workshop about psychopaths lead by Robert Hare. And I just have to say his description really, really surprised me. I have never imagined or thought that anyone could react physically after being startled, and so strongly at that.
The situation in relation to which he had this reaction makes the whole thing even more strange. There was no outside factor at all, only a picture! One picture, and it startled him because it was unexpected after a series of cosy park scenery!? He doesn't say if it was accompanied by a loud sound, which would've made it more likely that he got startled so much, but the physical reaction is still unusual in my experience. I've never had any experience like it, ever.
When I get startled I sometimes feel a sudden tuck at the spot called Solar Plexus (it's right under the point where your ribs meet above your stomach), but it subsides immediately afterwards. The closest to an after reaction I've ever experienced is a quick notion of anger at the intrusion that being startled feels like. But real physical reactions when being startled? And afterwards? No, nothing like that.
So when I read this passage, it made my jaw drop, for a while I just sat there. Can this be true? Do people really feel this way? If they do, is it normal, or do only some, maybe just a few, people feel like that when they've been startled?
Maybe my Readers can fill me in on this topic? Do any of you recognize Ronson's description? Is this the description you associate with being startled?