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Ordering Pizza to call for Help

Oregon, Ohio. Emergency dispatcher Tim Teneyck receives a call from a woman who seems like she was trying to order pizza. About half the calls he’d received over his decade-and-a-half career were not real emergency calls – a combination of misdials or simple requests for information. Each of these calls potentially denies a response to a real emergency. Teneyck had every reason to be impatient.

Teneyck repeated to the caller that she had made a mistake, but she insisted again that she really wanted to order a pepperoni pizza. Teneyck sensed that something was wrong. He got an address from the caller, and immediately sent a patrol. 

The woman had called for help because a man was abusing her mother, and she needed to call for help without letting the attacker know she was doing so. And she managed to do so, as Police Chief Michael Navarre explains: “The victim conveyed her need for help not through her words but through her tone of voice.”

This example reveals a little about how our brain works

The brain works both consciously and subconsciously. While we might believe that every thought or idea or reaction we have must be conscious, this is actually very far away from the truth.  Think about it - has an idea ever just spontaneously appeared in your head? What about when you felt scared without being consciously aware of it? Or when you sensed that someone was not well-meaning even though he/she didn't say anything?

Teneyck didn’t need to tell his brain specifically to listen out for emotions; as he explains, “my intuition told me that something wasn’t right.”

This intuition is subconscious - it is the accumulated wisdom from the many thousands of years of evolution (where a certain tone signals distress) and what we have learnt over our lifetimes (as a dispatcher, Teneyck's experience told him that something must be amiss even when he explained this was not the line to order pizza).


Hence, even though the content was completely irrelevant, his intuition was able to process not just what was said but read in-between the lines, and to match this with context, to solve the case. 

Related links:

  • Should you listen to your intuition?

  • The strange way your senses work: Is reality what you observe? Or what you think you should be observing? 

  • The Amazing Human Brain

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