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Why We ‘Freeze’ In Uncomfortable Situations

By in Huffington Post on June 13, 2017

By Erin Schumaker

How could former FBI Director James Comey, a 6-foot-8 onetime prosecutor known to stand up to power — feel “stunned” and lapse into an “awkward” silence during a conversation with President Donald Trump?

That’s how Comey described his silent response to Trump’s demand for loyalty in a private conversation that the fired FBI chief illuminated during a U.S. Senate hearing yesterday (June 8).

Comey may tower over the president, but it turns out he succumbed to a human behavior that is not uncommon in which people temporarily freeze, especially when something shocking is said and there’s an unequal power dynamic at play, said Samuel Wang, a professor of neuroscience at Princeton University. [5 Ways Your Emotions Influence Your World (and Vice Versa)]

“In such a situation, we don’t have the tools to respond appropriately,” Wang told Live Science. “And so, a fairly natural response is to pause. When you add to that the fact that the president of the United States is a powerful person, then the power dynamic makes it even more of a fear or shock response.”

Wang noted that Comey likely froze because he’s used to following procedure, and “for him to be with an authority figure who goes far outside the bounds of normal behavior and starts demanding loyalty and [seems to be] attempting to obstruct justice, this is just beyond shocking,” Wang said.

Likewise, people in inferior positions might be stunned into silence, and might worry about offending a superior or saying something “wrong” following a socially unacceptable exchange, largely because of the repercussions that might follow, said David Altheide, a regents’ professor emeritus of sociology at Arizona State University.

It’s not […]    

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