The Sabre Tooth Tiger Effect

I met a young lady at my local shopping centre a few days ago. We were both walking outside when her trolley wheel jammed on the little metal bumps on the ramp to the carpark. She was stuck. She couldn’t go forwards or backwards, and so I stopped and helped her by lifting the trolley, while she disengaged the wheel. 

“…our primitive brain wants to know: is it an innocent bunny or a dangerous predator?”

As we continued to our cars, she said with frustration, “This always happens to me… I’m shopping by myself, my boyfriend couldn’t help me and I have people coming over to my house!” 

It occurred to me that we all look at things with this negativity bias. This is because of (what I like to call) the sabre tooth tiger effect: …we are primed to be alert to danger or negative stimuli. If we see rustling in the grass, our primitive brain wants to know: is it an innocent bunny or a dangerous predator? 

In the modern world where there are no sabre tooth tigers, the perils and stressors take on a different, but equally potent form: people are unavailable to help us, the traffic is bad, the trolley is stuck. When negative events occur, we notice them more and feel like they occur with more regularity.

I responded, “…or, you could see it as: when this kind of thing happens to me, someone usually stops to help me and it turns out OK!” She laughingly agreed that it was true and that sometimes she was lucky and found a $50 note in the street, or something else good happened. 

A quick perspective shift can help us to see the world in a new light. A stranger offering some help becomes a potential new friend, and instead of a feeling of despair and loneliness…we are on our way with a smile!