Despite how easy it is to shoot a zombie in a video game, it turns out that in real life we’re not all natural born killers. In fact, according to Dave Grossman’s seminal work about the psychological cost of taking another person’s life, On Killing, more than 75% of us wouldn’t fire a fatal shot at our enemy even if our own lives depended on it.

Grossman observes that the traditional fight-or-flight model is too simplistic when dealing with violence within a single species, and a more accurate breakdown is: fight, flee, posture or submit.

“Piranhas and rattlesnakes will bite anything and everything, but among themselves piranhas fight with raps of their tails, and rattlesnakes wrestle.”

With mountains of evidence from past and current military conflicts, On Killing proves that it’s not a matter of cowardice that makes people passive, but an unconscious drive for survival of the species. Soldiers are willing to risk great danger to themselves to rescue others, gather supplies, or run messages, but these same men purposefully aim high when firing on the enemy.

Before you discount Grossman’s book, take note that it is required reading in a wide range of U.S. law enforcement and military institutions, including the FBI Academy, DEA Academy, United State Marine Corps, Airforce Academy and West Point.

So to the extent that our subconscious minds register the walking dead as another member of the human race, zombie survival isn’t going to be nearly as easy as a shotgun and ready ammunition.  Even if you’re ready to go out guns blazing, chances are most of the rest of your group won’t even fire a single shot on target.


  1. Joshua Wiebelhaus

    This has a good point so it will make you wonder once the apocalypse happens and whenever you see someone having an easy time shooting things “Is this guy a psychopath” because the people who have killed before or have experience doing so are the most likely to survive. Does not make me look forward to my future post-apocalyptic neighbors who will probably be a bunch of murderous thugs or worse; yay survival.

  2. This post manages to drive a point that many people do not recognize. Excellent post!

  3. This post does make a good point. I would probably not have the stones to shoot my mom in the face if she were a fresh zombie. The first 42 hours of a zombie epidemic I will likely be speeding my ass to a remote village in Alaska.

    But at a certain point you have do do what you have to do. My will to live is much stronger than my empathy to a walking corpse.

    I have no idea what it would be like in a situation as insane as that, but i know for damn certain that I will do whatever I have to do to live.

    I’d still probably die within the first few hours. Step on a rusty nail or trip on a turtle. Anything can happen.

  4. Good point. Many people think that if/when the zombie apocalypse happens that they will automatically be ready to kill everyone and anything they have to. But many people can’t shoot their mother in the face, even if she is decomposing, covered in the blood of her family, and advancing towards them arms grasping and teeth bared. This is one if the undeads advantages against humanity: psychological warfare.

  5. Another good post, with an excellent point

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