Part 4 of 6
When it comes to cognition and the mental processes it takes to get the tasks of ensuring survival and security done, as well as learn from mistakes, the main areas that were affected during stress were the memory, attention, reasoning, thinking, and awareness. These affected cognition functions were not only evident to ourselves, but to others around us.
Effects on memory
Memory seemed to be the first affected when it came to acting under pressure. Short-term memories such as locating a tool became a dance of checks and rechecks of our area so nothing would remain behind when we moved to safer locations. Remembering to drink, to eat, remembering good times of the past and remembering basic tasks all seemed to be a mental challenge that kept the group always on edge. Moreover, if something would remain behind by a group member such as a bottle of water due to forgetfulness, this forgetfulness became a source of fighting and aggression that affected the group’s motivation.
Not only does the activation of the amygdala due to stress affect perception, but it also has an impact on retrieving and forming memories. When the amygdala is stimulated and becomes triggered, it has a significant effect on working memory, and so things that were easy to recall under no stress situations became an effort to remember under fear and anxiety (Gonzales, 2003).
When cortisol is in the system, it floods the hippocampus and has an adverse effect on its output. The amygdala has a vast network connection to the sensory cortices, rhinal cortex, and anterior cingulate as well as the ventral prefrontal cortex, the dominant area of the memory areas (Gonzales, 2003). Both the input of information for memory and the output information to draw from memory are now influenced (Gonzales, 2003).
Due to the memory problems with little things that many of the group members had such as, retrieval of essential memories on how to do the simplest of tasks were forgotten, and of course how the members perceived situations was negatively affected and hindered motivation for more complex tasks.
Effects on attention
In addition to memory, many of the group members had problems when it came to attention. Paying attention to detail and safety was a constant concern. When needed, some group members tried to cut wood using a knife, inflicted some nasty wounds on their fingers by cutting it. One member even cuts his finger to the bone and needed medical attention on the spot, and through makeshift bandages and cleaning; he escaped further injury and infection. Attention to detail took a significant hit when it came to operating under stress and exhaustion.
Effects of reasoning
During survival, reasoning abilities were hard to use due to stress. Some members of the groups reasoning skills were better some were worse as well as difficult to manage for a positive outcome. No better time to watch the effects that stress had on us than when it came time to work as a team. Fights and arguments broke out, some thought they had better ideas than others did and through the heightened stress, it seemed like reasoning abilities gave way to irrational behavior.
Awareness. Awareness also took a hit in the context of the people not being aware of the dangers or potentially lifesaving resources around them and so, some of the group members became injured by natural debris or merely missing sources of water or food. In addition to the outward awareness, stress also affected the awareness of inner signs of distress, such as heat exhaustion or hypothermia, and these members failed to take action until someone pointed the problems out and gave assistance.
Thinking. Thinking and the processing of information became a chore, many times group members were overheard saying “wait, let me think” or, “I am so tired I can’t even think anymore,” or the more aggressive tone of, “shut up! So I can think!” Thinking and processing of information became difficult under these stressful and anxiety-generating circumstances. The most basic thinking skill such as planning became at times an energy consuming psychological battle.
Sun Tzu (1910) wrote:
“it is said that if you know your enemies [crisis] and know yourself, you will not be imperiled in a hundred battles; if you do not know others but you know yourself, you win one and lose one; if you do not know your enemy [environment] and do not know yourself, you will lose every single battle”.
When it comes to survival and security Sun Tzu’s words are wisdom for the ages, and those that heed these words have a better chance of getting out alive.
Maslow’s Physiological needs of survival
We know the physiological outcome of lack of water and not getting enough hydration, but what about the psychological impact of not having water. Living things need water to survive pure and simple, both the body and brain need water to continue to work efficiently. Without water, motivation breaks down due to exhaustion and behavior become sluggish. Motivation to seek other life-sustaining needs becomes last on survival needs list as I explored the behavior of the group in need of supplies.
Although one would assume from Maslow’s hierarchy of needs that there is an order of needs from step one, step two, and so on. Realistically, there was no order in the post-devastation and crisis event. We took advantage of the first opportunity that came along, and in our survival situation, the first survival opportunity that presented itself was a shelter.
Surviving, Security and the crisis
Maslow states that physiological needs are the foremost of all human needs (Maslow, 1943). In our experience in the crisis, this meant that people who lost everything in life and now find themselves with nothing as is the case following the devastation in our case, being homeless or shelterless. It will be highly likely that the physiological need will be the major issue that a person will dwell on. All other needs such as love and pleasure become non-existent or are left last on the list of must-haves, and food and water become the first and foremost of needs (Maslow, 1943).
Within our context of having to survive, that was indeed the case to some degree. However, we did find that hunger and thirst were not the first of our needs since the harsh environment of cold nights and hot days were more of a threat to us at that moment, versus lack of water or food. The theory applied once we were in a shelter discussed later in this research.
Part 5. Priority 1, the need for shelter .To be continued...