Monday, October 15, 2007

Regression to the mean

There is a phenomenon in statistics known as regression to the mean. Basically, anytime you have a variable whose value is changing over time, if you measure it and find it to be at an extreme value, then next time you measure it it will tend to move back toward its mean value. This means that when you have a record-high temperature, for instance, it is likely that tomorrow's temperature will be more moderate.
Regression to the mean shows up in all sorts of fields of study. If someone has an illness and is trying to let it pass without going to see the doctor, they will tend to wait until the illness is at its worst before they go see the doctor. Because they feel about as bad as they can possibly feel, anything (or nothing) that the doctor does will tend to make them feel at least a little better. Because they are at an extreme they tend to regress to the mean.
This is a good phenomenon to make use of in martial arts too. In the context of self-defense, if we assume that most folks are at least marginally sociable as their normal state, then they will only attack you when they are at their worst. In this extreme case, if you can keep yourself from being harmed but do not do anything to increase the attacker's aggression, they should tend to regress toward their mean state, which should be less aggressive than when they first attacked.
Sure, this is all theoretical, but it is backed up both anecdotally and in practice. Chris recently posted some advice from a blind kung fu master that is similar in tone and spirit. Sun Tzu wrote, "What begins in a surge of violent motion is always reduced to the perfectly still." You can see this phenomenon in action in the classic Terry Dobson train aikido story. Also, if you go back and check out the guy's videos for the nonviolent self-defense system that I posted several days ago, you'll see that he is always talking about not making things worse. Limiting the reasons that the other guy has to be aggressive. Reducing stimulus to limit the attacker's response.
THAT's making intelligent strategic use of regression to the mean.

1 comment:

  1. "THAT's making intelligent strategic use of regression to the mean."

    I agree, and that's also the problem. What is "intelligent" in this case isn't in line with our natural instincts. We have to move beyond reptilian/aggressive instincts to reach that point of intelligence.

    I think it's counter-intuitive for most people to use responses like you've mapped out.

    And what happens when reptilian instincts get reinforced by too much full-contact sparring, weight-lifting, and the current obsession with MMA/NHB?

    I agree with you completely that this material is the way to go, but it seems we will always be the minority on this issue.

    Formosa Neijia


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