Negative Reflexes: Hyperventilation, Obedience, Conformity, ...

Man with overbreathing (primitive pathological reflex) A reflex is an involuntary and almost instantaneous (muscular) reaction in response to a stimulus. Negative or pathological reflexes can be devided on 2 large groups: physiological (biological) ones and those that involve social life of people.

Physiological pathological reflexes

Among all primitive physiological pathological reflexes, hyperventilation is the main reflex due to conditioning of the nervous system during human evolution to breathe more at times of stress. Due to vary different air composition, it was beneficial to overbreathe in the past when O2/CO2 content in air was very different from modern conditions. This autonomic pathological reflex is highly prevalent these days in a chronic form: chronic hyperventilation is present in over 99% of subjects with diseases. See the Homepage for graphs and charts with results of clinical studies.

Note that breathing more air at rest reduces oxygen levels in cells of the body.

During evolution of life on Earth, most of the time our lungs were developing and evolving in conditions when the CO2 content in outer air was very high: up to 7-12% during the first stages of lung development in primitive creatures living 2-3 billion years ago. Oxygen content in primitive air was very low (about 1% or less during the first stages of evolution before and after appearance of green cells with chlorophyll). During these stages of evolution the process of control of breathing by the autonomic nervous system was also developed. Since this primitive air had very little O2 and high CO2, our evolutionary predecessors could get more oxygen in tissues only by breathing more. Therefore, breathing more air in the past was beneficial for survival.

Composition of air in atmosphere (past and now) and cells of the human body

CO2 and oxygen: Evolution of air composition on Earth

Any stressful situation, fight, flight, search for food, digestion, mating, playing, and any other activity required more oxygen. How? By breathing more. Hence, hyperventilation became the most fundamental primitive reflex of the autonomic nervous system, as soon as first lungs (or prototypes of human lungs) appeared on Earth. Only totally peaceful, stress-free rest had low metabolic rates when heavy breathing could not provide any advantages for survival.

Effects of air changes on negative reflexes

However, the modern air composition is very different: modern air is hyperoxic (too much oxygen as leading respirologist agree) and almost no CO2. Therefore, from being advantageous, hyperventilation became the main pathological reflex since it reduces O2 levels in body cells. It is unlikely that there are any other equally destructive pathological reflexes.

This pathological reflex to hyperventilate is now more fundamental for humans than all other pathological reflexes, instincts and drives: to drink, eat, mate, and other primitive reflexes. Why is it so? This is because when the human baby is born, the first things it starts to do is to breathe deeply as if expecting that air has very little O2 and a lot of CO2. (All developing or survived human cultures and tribes have used swaddling of infants to ensure their survival and good health, as we discussed before.)

Most sick people (over 90%) die due to the same pathological reflex of the autonomic nervous system: hyperventilation. This primitive reflex again gains control over the human brain and autonomous nervous system during last days/weeks of life. As a result, the dying sufferers frantically gasp for more air, as if expecting to get more oxygen (see Heavy Breathing Pattern - Highest Mortality Rates). Hence, hyperventilation is the main among in-built primitive pathological reflexes of the autonomous nervous system.

For the list of the quoted references click here.

Social pathological reflexes

Apart from biology-related effects, humans also carry reflexes that relate to their social behavior. For example, obedience to authority (as in Milgram experiment) and conformity to social pressure are examples of negative reflexes. You can find more detail about social issues here social problems.

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