Science Of...

Hysterical Strength Is The Superhuman Power You Get In Emergencies

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The seemingly superhuman powers that people get during emergencies (a mom lifting a heavy car to save her trapped baby, for example) may seem like science-fiction, but they're very real. Hysterical strength, as it's properly called, results from an adrenaline rush in high-stress situations.

Why It Matters

Whether in movies or real life, we've all heard stories of people who are plunged in a life-or-death situation and suddenly have the strength to lift a tree or a car. One of the most popular examples of this is Tom Boyle, Jr., who, when he witnessed a cyclist get hit and dragged several feet by a Camaro, was able to lift the front end of the car and free the cyclist. What happened to give Boyle—or the mother who fought off a polar bear advancing on her son, or the grandmother who threw a riding lawnmower before it could kill her granddaughter—this kind of superhuman strength?

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Why It Happens

When you're faced with an emergency, your hypothalamus—the hormone center of your brain—kicks into gear, sending a signal to your adrenal glands to release adrenaline, otherwise known as epinephrine, and norepinephrine. These hormones are what make your heart pump faster, your breathing get harder, and your pupils grow larger. But perhaps most importantly, they do amazing things to your muscles. A boost in blood flow gives muscles extra oxygen to help them perform at a higher level. Electrical impulses from the nervous system stimulate the muscles to make them tighten. Adrenaline also gives your muscles extra energy in the form of glucose. All of this happens in overdrive when the body is in fight-or-flight mode, which is why someone might be able to perform feats of strength they'd never be able to in normal circumstances. Learn more about so-called "hysterical strength" in the videos below.

Watch To Learn: The Web's Best Videos About Adrenaline

The Science of Adrenaline

Find out what this fight-or-flight hormone can do.

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5 Cases Of Superhuman Strength

Hear stories of people lifting cars and helicopters.

Is Superhuman Strength Really Possible?

There's a limit to what a human can do.

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