Expert paints Oscar Pistorius’ terrifying world

2014-07-02 17:59

Oscar Pistorius’ defence team today called their star witness, who began painting a picture of the terrifying world inhabited by Oscar Pistorius as a disabled person.

Professor Wayne Derman, a sports scientist and physician who has known Pistorius for seven years, will also focus on the “fight or flight reflex” in humans, saying it was essentially what “got you out of the way of a predator” in “caveman times”.

“In more modern times, this phenomena is recorded to have occurred in events we’ve all heard of, such as a mother picking up a car or a mother fighting off a polar bear”.

His testimony is central to the defence’s argument of putative self defence, that Pistorius subjectively believed his life was in danger, even though he had not actually been attacked.

If his defence proves this, the most Pistorius can be found guilty of is culpable homicide.

Derman’s testimony is aimed at showing that Pistorius had less control over his subconscious responses to danger because of his anxious nature.

Earlier in the day, he laid the basis for this by saying he had conducted tests on Pistorius, as part of a broader study, which show that the athlete was more anxious and stressed than other disabled athletes.

Disabled athletes as a whole, he said, were also more anxious than able-bodied athletes.

Derman said he had observed a “significant ... fight or flight response with people with disabilities ... who have reacted to perceived danger or imminent threat of harm”.

He also testified that Pistorius had an “exaggerated response” to fireworks at opening ceremonies, and that “he covers his head and ears and cowers until the noise stops”.

Derman said Pistorius was hypervigilant, restless and was constantly scanning for a potential threat.

After testifying about Pistorius’ anxiety and studies done on the likelihood of disabled people being victims of violence, Derman moved on to the human brain.

He said that the amygdala, the part of the brain controlling subconscious actions, governed the fight or flight response.

When a particular thought pattern was triggered, the thinking or conscious part of the brain was inhibited, “giving the amygdala free reign to maximise fight or flight response”.

Derman then said that the pathway or connections between the thinking and unconscious part of the brain were less strong in people that displayed higher anxiety.

This means that people who are very anxious have much less conscious control over their brain when confronted with dangerous situations.

The professor will continue his testimony-in-chief tomorrow.

Late yesterday, Kenny Oldwadge, Pistorius’ advocate, was successful in obtaining a gagging order preventing the media from publishing two psychological reports into Pistorius’ mental condition, saying only that they contained information of an intimate nature.

This was despite the fact that they had already been widely published and distributed before the court was alerted to the publication.

Only the parts that Barry Roux, Pistorius’ other lawyer, had earlier read into the record were exempt from the order.

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