Everyone knows about the impulse, when cornered, to fight or flight. However a UCLA psychoneuroimmunological research team has developed a theory which says that some of us, mainly women, react to stress with a response they call “tend and befriend.” That is our first impulse is to protect the vulnerable and then to gather with others in protective and supportive clusters until the danger has passed. The research team, headed by Dr. Shelley Taylor, has tied this to levels of oxytocin and other hormones which effect our response.
When we feel threatened, rather than retreating into our homes, and locking the doors (or moving straight out of the neighbourhood), instead, we can gather together and build community amongst ourselves. These more pro-social actions, linking ourselves to each other, are a positive and, according to Taylor and her colleagues, natural response to threat.
The power of this idea lies in how it can be applied to community development and the provision of an alternate model for community organizers in their response to crime, fear and disorder in a neighbourhood. Their work should turn to strengthening of the social ties between neighbourhood residents.
Taylor’s theory underscores Sampson, Raudenbush, & Earl’s ideas on collective efficacy: the ability and belief of a community to bring about positive change. But more about their ideas another day.