The human brain is excellent at pattern recognition. You know all those tests on Facebook where you are supposed to find the hidden text? Or texts where the middle part of words are removed leaving only the beginning and the end? Your brain is able to read that text because of its pattern recognition ability. It’s seen those words so many times before in the same context that it can make sense of it. Your brain is constantly trying to put everything into context this way. To categorize everything that comes as input from our sensors.
This is essential to our survival. Throughout human history, those who could spot the signs of a threat early on survived. The rest did not. They were more easily caught by a predator or an avalanche. When you experience a detrimental situation your brain routes that memory to the danger alert area. The next time a similar situation occurs your brain will set off the alarm making you aware of that you might come to harm.
This is what happens when a child that is used to beating sees a raised hand. This is what happens when an old lady that once was robbed of her purse sees a person that looks and behaves like the robber.
A memory that is carved into your brain’s danger alert zone is very hard to override. It only takes one negative experience to set such a memory. To erase the danger sign you’ll need multiple positive reinforcements.
When sharing these experiences with other people we also change their perception of what to be afraid of. Although not as a powerful danger memory as having experienced it first hand this still is enough to set your brain at least to guard mode.
Every time a person approaches you your brain will process every little bit of information input by the sensors to determine as quickly as possible what kind of a person this is. The way the person looks, moves, talks, smells is matched to your brain database of human behavior. This is an automated process. It happens whether you want it to or not.
If your brain is missing an adequate reference frame for this person, it will automatically label the person as a potential threat. This is simply your brain trying to protect you as it has throughout thousands of years.
When it comes to what action to take after this processing. How to interact with the person that is approaching you. Here you do have a choice. You can override a moderate level of flight mode. That kind that is set off because of the unknown. Perhaps you will remain cautious. But you will not walk away.
Try to override that instinct of danger when something is new to you. When you don’t know what to make of someone. When your brain has already assigned the label weird, loser or any other negative attribute to the other person. Overriding that automatic processing will lead to acceptance and respect for other people. It will create a positive experience. Set a new standard. Modify your automatic processing to become less prejudiced.
So the next time your brain tells you to be on the alert. Try overriding it. You might just find a new friend in a complete stranger.