The human brain is equipped for risk assessment. When faced with uncertainty our early ancestors could make judgements on possible dangers, ultimately keeping them alive,
“Should I shelter in that cave, maybe it contains a bear?”
Okay, so I know their language wasn’t developed enough for such thoughts, more likely they grunted, but you catch my drift. This ‘Life Preserving Brain’ gave us the ability to make decisions based on experience and knowledge, reducing the chance of us being mauled to death. We also developed as social beings living together in groups.
Living in groups has great benefits. We are more effective at reproducing, sourcing food and protecting ourselves from danger. But what if, for some reason, you were rejected and expelled from the group, how much easier would it be for a man-eating beast to devour you? You’ve seen all those documentaries where the lions isolate the weakest antelope? Well, that could be you! As early humans, we had a greater chance of survival when we lived together in groups. Being rejected could spell disaster!
So back to the present day, and most of the time we aren’t exposed to those man-eating beasts. Or at least, if we are, we have new ways to protect ourselves. But, despite all our advances in language, science and technology we still possess this ‘Life preserving Brain”. We still calculate risk in relation to shelter, security, children, comfort and wellbeing. Human beings still make assessments for protection on a daily basis. Our mind is often donning a hard hat, high-vis and clipboard and going around saying, “Nope, don’t do that, too risky!”.
But what has all this to do with FOMO? FOMO stands for Fear of Missing Out, it is the feeling or perception that other people are living better lives or experiencing better things than you are. This is often heightened by posts on social media. People showing all the wonderful things they do, have or are experiencing. Remember when you were younger, and all your friends were allowed to play out, but for some reason your kill joy parents wouldn’t let you? That feeling of ‘missing out’ is FOMO. We all experience a bit of FOMO from time to time but when it starts to completely consume our thoughts it can become a serious problem. These thoughts are often accompanied by feelings of anxiety, loneliness, shame, guilt, discontent or sadness. Left unchecked this could lead to depression, anxiety disorders, self-loathing and self-esteem issues.
So, back to the cavemen (and when I say ‘cavemen’ I also mean women, but ‘cavepeople’, well it just doesn’t sound quite right. I’m sure most women will forgive me). Were these cavemen sat around feeling left out from the latest campfire party? Well, not quite, although who knows? Since social groups helped protect us from harm, it makes sense that being isolated from the group was risky and dangerous. So, it was essential to our survival that we were not rejected by our gang. How then did we ensure our place within the group? How did we make sure we were accepted instead of being the weakest link?
We often see animals compete for mates, territory and feeding grounds. During a stand-off, cats fluff out their fur to make themselves look bigger and stronger. They meow (go with me on this),
“If it comes to the crunch Tiddles, I’m going to whoop your ass!”
And, if this intimidation strategy works, the other cat backs down. And humans were no different. If Caveman Fred was stronger, fitter, a better hunter and more useful to the group, then he would have a better social standing and be higher up the hierarchy. Any sign that we might be the weakest link or bring nothing to the group could, in challenging times, result in rejection.