Book Definition: Sequence of internal processes preparing an organism for struggle or escape.

History (Optional)

Discovered by the great Harvard physiologist Walter Cannon in the early 20th century.

In Your Own Words

  • Primitive response to stress.
  • When a situation is interpreted as threatening, you are given the options to confront it (fight), or flee from it (flight).
  • When feeling threatened, you have the option to to fight back or run away.
  • Innate process which prepares us to take on the situation or run from it.
  • Hormones released to help you "fight".
  • What males tend to do and what females do less (tend and befriend), where one faces a stressful situation or runs away from it.
  • When your body hits you with adrenaline in a stressful situation that gives you the choice to fight, or run away (flight).
  • The choice to run away or face your problem head first.


  • If you come across a bear in the woods, you either stare it down (Fight) or run away fast (Flight).
  • When your parents accuse you of lying, you either deny it and keep the lie going (fight) or admit you lied (flight).
  • When you are walking down the street and someone steals your wallet. You know they just took it out of your pocket. You can (fight) chase after them to get your wallet back, or you can (flight) accept that you lost your wallet.
  • You are handed back a paper you worked really hard on at school. You can (fight) and argue with the teacher about why it deserves an A , or you can (flight) accept the grade and move on.
  • A gymnast that has a fear of the beam can either get on the beam and face their fear, (fight) or "chicken out" and not complete that event. (flight).
  • A small fire starts in your house and you can either try to extinguish it yourself (fight) or get away and call for help (flight).
  • You enter the classroom late and see everyone getting ready for a test today that you forgot about and you feel like running out of the room (flight), but you have to take the test (fight).
  • Your boss insults you at work and criticizes that you have failed at your tasks, you want to punch them right then and there (fight), but you just sit there and take it (flight).
  • Your teacher tells you that you will have to get up in front of the class and "teach" what you learned. Your first instinct is to go to the bathroom to get out of having to do it (flight), but you decide to read over your notes and try your best to deliver the information to the class (fight).
  • When someone punches you in the face you can fight back (Fight) or walk away (flight).
  • Getting home from a late sports practice and you still have homework. You have the choice of going to bed (flight) or getting the homework out of the way before you go to sleep (fight).
  • Somebody is bullying you at school you either fight them (Fight) or ignore them and walk away (flight).
  • There is a burglar in your house. Should you try and wrestle him, or run and call the cops?
  • A pit bull is about to attack you and you know it. You can either run away (flight) or try and fight it (fight).
  • There is a monster hiding under your bed, you can try to kill it or run away like a sissy.
  • Sometimes an adrenalin rush happens that can gives you extra energy to face a threat or stressful situation, like facing a robber with a gun to protect others, or to run away from a threatening or stressful situation, like seeing a guy with a gun and high tailing it out of there.
  • Your friend is mad at you and wants to argue. You can either argue back with her or hang up the phone.
  • When you find a killer behind your shower curtain you can either find something to defend yourself with (fight) or scream, run, and hope you don't die (flight).


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Additional Resources


  • An interesting experiment done on farm animals, specifically cattle, to test what reactions their body goes through when faced with the short term stressor of transportation. The concept (Fight or Flight) originally introduced by Walter Cannon (1914) and Hans Selye (1936) This experiment done by EH Von Borell in 2001. The cattle were connected to devices that measured heart and breathing rate, body temperature, and blood pressure to test the physical and psychological effects it had on the animals. The researchers wanted undisturbed responses from these devices so that's why the machines were connected to the livestock instead of the more conventional way of having actual interaction with the animals and risking the results being altered. Check out what happened!
  • Von Borell, E. H. (2001). The biology of stress and its application to livestock housing and transportation assessment. J. Anim. Sci, 79(Suppl E), E260-E267.