Anthropology study hopes to provide alternative responses to fear-based violence

November 28, 2016

Jasmine Nelson

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     A study conducted in the Anthropology Department hopes to show participants that we have been socially conditioned to respond to perceived threats with violence.

     In the spring semester, associate anthropology professor Kimbra Smith will conduct the study which was inspired by racial violence in the U.S. and Europe.

     Students who volunteer will receive a $90 Visa gift card and materials related to the study.

     The ultimate goal is to reduce instances of fear-based violence in the U.S., according to Smith.

     “What we’re trying to do in this study is look at different ways to re-train our bodies to perceive situations differently so that we can come up with responses that we actually think through as opposed to just responding with our bodies in ways that are based on fear.”

     Smith, after observing fearbased violence in the U.S. and in Europe, hopes to educate people on how we’re socially conditioned to have certain fears and respond to them, often with violence.

     “I think a lot of discrimination and prejudice are things that we’re not even aware of, it’s the way our bodies have been taught to respond to situations and I don’t think we can overcome that without retraining the body,” said Smith.

     Practice-based exercises will be used to help participants recognize their behaviors in response to fear.

     In one of the activities, students will respond to images that trigger defense mechanisms.

     “We’ll be using games that people have to engage in with their bodies to get them out of our typical socialized embodied responses and give people a new range of actions that they’re familiar with that they could then apply in new circumstances,” said Smith.

     After the study is finished, Smith hopes to develop workshops and handbooks for a condensed version of the training based on the study.

     “It’s not that it’s anyone’s fault, but we’ve been conditioned to act this way,” she said.

     “Most people don’t think in discriminatory ways about other people on a conscious level, but our bodies have been trained to respond subconsciously to what we’ve been taught to perceive as a threat.”

     The anthropology and psychology departments both plan to research connections between the body and brain and what factors contribute to how the brain processes information and stimuli.

     “I’ve been working for several years with different groups that are experiencing different kinds of conflict, including discrimination, and I’ve also been looking at neuroplasticity,” said Smith.

     “The idea that our brains can change the circuits that we process things on; we can learn new responses.”

     Smith said students who want to participate in this study can contact her at ksmith5@ The final group of students who will participate will be formed by mid December.