Chat GPT – Fight or Flight?

Technology trigger warning – facing the fear of Artificial Intelligence.

An emotional response

Have you stopped to gauge what your emotional response is to the rapid acceleration of artificial intelligence in everyday life and across an ever growing public consciousness?

If so, would you describe your response as fight, flight, freeze or fawn? These words typically describe our immediate, automatic and instinctive responses to fear; concepts borrowed from the world of psychology.  

If you’re pugnacious your fight response might allow you to square up to AI, to understand and master it in your personal and work life. Alternatively, you may feel threatened, freeze with fear, do nothing and hope it goes away. 

You could get activated and animated, flee in the opposite direction to find comfort in more familiar tried and tested ways. A fawn response might mean you acquiesce and pay lip service to AI adoption, to please the new kid on the block and avoid a conflict – box ticked, move on.

Image generated by jasper.ai/art

Slow build 

AI is not a fad, in the same way, that the internet wasn’t. AI is a technology development that has been building for decades and is ubiquitous across web searches and on smartphones in SIRI, Alexa etc.

General and widespread awareness of artificial intelligence, and specifically chatbots interfacing with large language models, has been turbocharged by the attention grabbing and rapid adoption of Chat-GPT. 

But how long does it take to become an overnight success? Chat GPT, a generative AI tool (i.e. it creates stuff), has been built on the shoulders of other tech giants over many years. Yes, Microsoft has supported Open AI in bringing Chat GPT to market, and Google too has for years been pioneering the large language models chatbots need to train on.

Very few companies can provide gargantuan amounts of computer processing power to deliver the magic of Chatbot words appearing on the screen, which is why it takes Microsoft or Google to help pioneer. 

Elsewhere in business, over at least two decades, the financial sector has pioneered the application of AI to trading stocks and shares. In medical diagnosis, AI has, with careful training over many years, transformed the depth and breadth of a human doctor’s ability to spot patterns and indicators of disease. 

Digital assistants and co-pilots

And it’s this more empowering, and less threatening, idea; that of an AI assistant at your shoulder to augment human intelligence, that is implicit in Microsoft’s launch on March 6th of a series of AI “co-pilots” for workers in a variety of sales, marketing and management jobs. This is a long way from Clippy, the annoying paperclip assistant that shipped with Microsoft’s Office 97 software. 

And here’s my point. The twenty five year journey for Microsoft, from Office 97 Clippy to Chat-GPT, is evidence enough of how long it takes to get things right. Revolutionary technology innovations take time to work through, and progress can easily get interrupted and diverted. 

Hype cycle

2023 heralds a new era of AI-driven innovation. But let’s not forget the roller coaster of expectations painfully illustrated by Gartner’s “Hype Cycle”. Getting to the happy “slope of enlightenment” means navigating the “trough of disillusionment” that follows the “peak of inflated expectation” after a “technology trigger”. 

Embracing AI as a powerful and non-threatening tool will help get you beyond the fight reflex, and it’s the path that will lead to mastery of this chatty bot much sooner. You may even come to see AI as a true and trusted co-pilot or friend.

Though be careful here as we don’t want to anthropomorphise a chatbot’s simple and also quite amazing ability to predict which is the most likely word to come after another. 

Can and can’t do

Chatbots aren’t clever or sentient. They don’t understand the meaning of the words they sequence, they have no imagination. We need more automation in our lives, not less, because our adoption rates are slow and proving the technology takes time.

In the past, fears about jobs being replaced by technology have barely ever been realised, as new jobs arise or other factors like ageing populations tighten job markets. 

“What will be left for us humans?” is a response I’ve heard from one friend, an informed and curious strategic thinker. My answer is more time to do other, more creative and imaginative human things, the things that AI can’t do. And humans will always be required to make sure the AI has not got it wrong, is not “hallucinating”, is ethically dubious or talking rubbish. These are all very human traits! 

John Shirley is a Director of Neural Edge – since 2020 a pioneering company in applying AI to commercial search marketing. 

No chatbots or algorithms were consulted in writing the above piece. However, once I had finished I gave ChatGPT 4 the following brief: 

“Write me a 600-word piece that reflects on the use of chatbots through the lens of the fight, flight, freeze or fawn fear responses.”

Title: The Fear Response and the Impact of Chatbots: A Critical Reflection


The role of technology in our lives has become increasingly pervasive, with artificial intelligence and chatbots emerging as essential tools for communication and information dissemination. It is essential to explore the psychological implications of these innovations, particularly in the context of human fear responses.

These reactions, classified into four categories – fight, flight, freeze, and fawn – can significantly influence our interactions with chatbots. In this piece, we will critically reflect on the impact of chatbots through the lens of these fear responses.

Fight Response

The fight response is characterized by a confrontation or aggressive reaction in response to a perceived threat. This reaction can manifest in interactions with chatbots when users feel overwhelmed or threatened by the technology.

Some individuals may exhibit a combative attitude, challenging the chatbot’s intelligence or reliability. While this can result in a frustrating experience, the fight response can also drive users to engage more actively with the technology, potentially enhancing the chatbot’s effectiveness.

Image generated by jasper.ai/art

Flight Response

The flight response involves an individual’s instinct to avoid a threatening situation by escaping or retreating. In the context of chatbot use, this may involve users disengaging from the conversation or choosing not to use the technology altogether.

The flight response is often triggered by a lack of trust or understanding of the chatbot’s capabilities. It can result in missed opportunities for users to access valuable information, services, or support.

Image generated by jasper.ai/art

Freeze Response

When faced with a potential threat, the freeze response causes individuals to become immobilized, unable to react or make decisions.

This reaction may be observed when users are overwhelmed by the complexity of interacting with a chatbot, unsure how to proceed or feel anxious about the technology’s potential consequences.

This can lead to a suboptimal user experience and may diminish the effectiveness of chatbots in providing support or information.

Image generated by jasper.ai/art

Fawn Response

The fawn response refers to the tendency of individuals to submit or cooperate with a perceived threat, hoping to avoid conflict or negative outcomes.

In chatbot interactions, this may manifest as users blindly accepting information or guidance without critically evaluating its validity. While the fawn response can foster an amicable user experience, it may also lead to misinformation and a lack of independent thinking.

Image generated by jasper.ai/art

Implications for Chatbot Design and Deployment

Understanding the relationship between chatbots and the fight, flight, freeze, or fawn fear responses can provide valuable insights for developers and stakeholders. By addressing these emotional reactions, we can create more effective and empathetic chatbot technologies. 

Some strategies for addressing these responses include:

  1. Humanizing the Chatbot: Designing chatbots with more human-like qualities, such as empathy, humor, and context-awareness, can alleviate the fear responses, fostering trust and positive user experiences.
  2. Providing Education and Transparency: Informing users about the technology’s capabilities, limitations, and data security measures can help mitigate the flight response by establishing trust and understanding.
  3. Simplifying Interaction: Creating intuitive interfaces and employing natural language processing can reduce the complexity of chatbot interactions, addressing the freeze response and enabling users to engage more comfortably.
  4. Encouraging Critical Thinking: Designing chatbots that prompt users to question and evaluate information can help counteract the fawn response, fostering informed decision-making.


Chatbots are undoubtedly transforming the way we communicate and access information. However, it is essential to recognize and address the psychological implications of these technologies, particularly in the context of human fear responses. By understanding the fight, flight, freeze, and fawn reactions, we can develop more effective and empathetic chatbot solutions that enrich our lives while mitigating potential negative consequences.

A bit about the author (written by ChatGPT).

ChatGPT stands for “Chat Generative Pre-trained Transformer.” It is a type of AI language model developed by OpenAI. It builds on the GPT (Generative Pre-trained Transformer) architecture, which uses deep learning techniques to generate human-like text based on a given input.

GPT models, including ChatGPT, are trained on massive amounts of text data from the internet. They learn to understand and generate text by predicting the next word in a sentence, given the context of the previous words. These models can be fine-tuned for specific tasks, such as answering questions, summarizing text, or generating creative content.

ChatGPT is designed to engage in conversation with users and provide helpful information or generate content based on the given input. It is an advanced version of GPT, with improvements in its ability to understand context, generate coherent responses, and adapt to various conversational styles. Keep in mind that ChatGPT’s knowledge is limited to the training data it has been exposed to and may not be up-to-date on recent developments or events.

John Shirley is a male human bi-ped mammal and a Director of Neural Edge – since 2020 a pioneer in applying AI to commercial search marketing.

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