Individual reactions to danger in humans are often characterized as antisocial and self-preservative. Yet, more than 50 years of research have shown that humans often seek social partners and behave prosocially when confronted by danger. This research has relied on post hoc verbal reports, which fall short of capturing the more spontaneous reactions to danger and determine their social nature. Real-world responses to danger are difficult to observe, due to their evanescent nature. Here, we took advantage of a series of photographs freely accessible online and provided by a haunted house attraction, which enabled us to examine the more immediate reactions to mild threat. Regarding the nature and structure of affiliative behaviour and their motivational correlates, we were able to analyse the distribution of gripping, a behaviour that could either be linked to self- or other-oriented protection. We found that gripping, an affiliative behaviour, was common, suggestive of the social nature of human immediate reactions to danger. We also found that, while gripping behaviour is quite stable across group sizes, mutual gripping dropped dramatically as group size increases. The fact that mutual gripping disappears when the number of available partners increases suggests that gripping behaviour most probably reflects a self-preservative motivation. We also found age class differences, with younger individuals showing more gripping but receiving little reciprocation. Also, the most exposed individuals received little mutual gripping. Altogether, these results suggest that primary reactions to threat in humans are driven by affiliative tendencies serving self-preservative motives.
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