Search tips
Search criteria 


Logo of procrsmedFormerly medchtJournal of the Royal Society of MedicineProceedings of the Royal Society of Medicine
Proc R Soc Med. 1928 January; 21(3): 397–405.
PMCID: PMC2102016

The Danger Instincts


(I) Theory

Rivers' theory of the “danger instincts” is a key to the problem of moral and prevention of war neuroses.

(II) Causes of War Neuroses

These are believed to be largely mental, e.g., conflict between the instinct of self-preservation and the sense of duty.

(III) Instinct of Self-Preservation

This subject presents difficulties, because people react in so many different ways; a man may be impelled to run away, or to become aggressive or even motionless when in danger.

(IV) Importance

The importance of knowing all the reactions of the normal man to danger is, first—the need to know the normal before considering the abnormal states; second—the chemical warfare of the future will involve increased emotional stress; third—in such war, there will be an additional strain of inactivity during a gas attack.

(V) The Danger Instincts as described by Rivers

Reaction by flight. Aggression. Manipulative activity. Immobility and collapse. Emotional states associated with reactions. Conflict between different tendencies the reason for collapse when in danger.

(VI) Evidence supporting Rivers' Theories

Relative severity of war neurosis in pilots, observers, balloon officers, Army officers and submarine crews. Investigation on reactions of pilots to danger and fear.

(VII) Rivers' Theory applied to Moral (Mental Hygiene)

Knowledge of normal reactions to danger enables the medical officer to help to maintain moral by:—(a) Preparing the mind to meet danger. Explaining that fear is a natural emotion under certain circumstances. Need for self-control but not shame. (b) Prevention of repression. (c) Counter-suggestion and panic.

(VIII) Concluding Statement on Cowardice

Difficulty in distinguishing cowardice from neurosis. Definition suggested. Medical tests.

Full text

Full text is available as a scanned copy of the original print version. Get a printable copy (PDF file) of the complete article (1.2M), or click on a page image below to browse page by page.

Articles from Proceedings of the Royal Society of Medicine are provided here courtesy of Royal Society of Medicine Press