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One strategy for disabling someone without permanently incapacitating them is to debilitate them by overloading their senses. In some cases, an intensely bright light or loud noise is just as effective as a Tap on the Head, and can allow easy capture. If that fails, it's another form of Look Behind You!, without having to actually talk to the opponent.

This is a common tactic against those with Super Senses because it turns a strength into a weakness. Technology or magic may grant Badass Normals super-human senses that can be exploited this way. Used against a machine, this often results in Readings Are Off the Scale. In a Video Game, this is likely to be represented as an Interface Screw of some sort.

See also Poke in the Third Eye and First Time Feeling. Compare Sense Loss Sadness.

Examples of Sensory Overload include:


Anime and Manga

  • The title character of Inuyasha is laid low by overpowering smells a few times thanks to his keen doglike nose. It mostly happens coincidentally, though, rather than being intentional on the part of an enemy.
  • Used for comical effect in Karin, where it is revealed that the Vampire's famous aversion to Garlic basically just comes down to enhanced senses, including a very strong sense of smell... so it won't kill them, but they sure will retreat in a hurry, pinching their noses.
  • In Change 123, during that guerrilla mission in the American military base on Okinawa, this kind of tactics was used by Tsukishima against the dogs and by Hino against a soldier who used the night vision goggles.
  • Several times in Fullmetal Alchemist, most notably using ammonia from dynamite to knock out two chimæra.
  • In Pokémon when Team Rocket used a foul smelling gas to deaden the sense of smell of a bunch of Growlithe as part of their plan.
    • Also comes into play with Gloom, which produces a smell bad enough to knock out people and Pokemon. This is a rather big problem for Ash when facing Erika's.
  • Code Geass: When a telepath geass user was exposed to a massive crowd, the character has a mental breakdown.
  • In Tiger and Bunny, Kotetsu attempts to use an ultrasonic grenade to defeat Jake's super hearing. However, it is just a ruse to overcome Jake's true power, mind reading, and the "ultrasonic" grenade is really a flashbang.
  • Naruto: Naruto once beat Kiba by farting into Kiba's super-sensitive nose. It has since become a Running Gag; any time Naruto farts, Kiba is somewhere within range.

Comic Books

  • Marvel Comics:
    • Dazzler had an attack of multicolored, bright, and strobing lights that would disorient opponents -- even those without specialized eyesight.
    • X-Men:
      • Wolverine has super-sensitive hearing, so many villains like to use sonic attacks against him.
      • Fabian Cortez used this on Psylocke, amplifying her telepathic powers while she was on Genosha, an island full of mutant haters. It backfired in the end but the whole experience was very traumatic for her.
      • Taken Up to Eleven by Dark Phoenix. To punish Mastermind for the hubris of trying to control her, she briefly granted him omniscience.
      • Mister Sensitive from X-Statix could be defeated by stripping away his special suit. Even a fine mist felt like thousands of needles.
    • Daredevil Usually, this is how villains defeat the titular character due to his super senses.
  • During a prison riot in Sillage, one of the aliens killed his enemy by injecting him with his hormones - its a part of a mating ritual for his species but the sensation is too overwhelming for any other creature - he basically orgasmed him to death.

Film - Animation

  • This is a tactic taught in dragon training on How to Train Your Dragon. Making loud noises disorients dragons long enough for the fighter to strike or head for cover.

Film - Live Action

  • Yellowbeard: Harvey "Blind" Pew has incredibly sensitive hearing, so Gilbert blows on a trumpet to disorient him.
  • Happens briefly to Riddick in Pitch Black, when another survivor accidentally shines a flashlight in his super-sensitive eyes.
  • In Tremors, Graboids are super sensitive to sound. This is exploited several times throughout the films and the tv series.
  • On Flashpoint the Strategic Response Unit regularly use flashbangs to incapacitate suspects. On some occasions they will also use a special riot shield with flashing strobe lights and speakers emitting loud high frequency noise.
  • In the Angel episode "To Shanshu in L.A.", Wolfram & Hart raise a demon who inflicts Cordelia with a spell that increases her empathic powers. Instead of just receiving the "messages" from the Powers That Be, Cordelia feels the suffering of everyone which overwhelms her and drives her into madness and catatonia.
  • In Daredevil, the hero is incapacitated by this briefly a few times.

Literature

  • Isaac Asimov's Foundation novel Second Foundation. A Mind Static device is used to "blind" Second Foundationers with psychic abilities (the "sixth sense").
  • In the Discworld novels, Angua the Night Watch patrolman has a supernaturally keen sense of smell. One villain comes up with the clever idea of using peppermint bombs to overwhelm her ability to pick up clues that way. This eventually becomes common practice among the more intelligent parts of Ankh-Morpork's underworld.
    • Another Discworld example is Thief of Time: The Auditors of Reality, when they assume human form, are so overwhelmed by their senses that Susan takes them down with chocolate.
  • In Brandon Sanderson's Mistborn novels, burning tin dramatically increases your senses, so one tactic to use against a Tin Eye (people who can only tin) or Mistborn (people who can burn all metals) burning tin is to use bright lights or loud noises. Even though the person can instantly shut down the burn it still takes a second for them to recover from the shock.
  • In The Burning Realm, the Deathlings are victims of a curse-born plague that renders their senses so keen they're almost unbearable. They isolate themselves in a silent, mist-shrouded valley to ensure the disease will not spread, and drape themselves in the lightest and loosest of clothing to minimize the pain of being touched.
  • Frequently, in detective stories, a camera flash is used to blinding effect.
  • Molly of The Dresden Files casts a spell that creates bright lights, multi-colored and flashing. Harry calls it the One-Woman Rave.
  • Uplift series: Acceptors, being designed as living Everything Sensors, are somewhat prone to this.
  • Tom Clancy's Debt Of Honor features a light so bright it causes paralysis. Not mere incapacitation from blindness, but sensory overload so complete the subjects are entirely overwhelmed.
  • In Artemis Fowl and the Time Paradox, Holly incapacitates a villain by healing his sense of smell (which he'd been born without due to a congenital defect) - in the middle of a Tunesian tannery, which smells horrible even at the BEST of times. Since he'd never smelled anything before, the stench caused a complete sensory overload, knocking him out and inflicting some serious mental trauma in the process.
  • Labyrinths of Echo has Mundane Utility for this. The cuisine of Kuman Khalifate is all sweet -- they put honey even in soups and the Master Scenter swears Kuman people themselves smell of honey from such a diet. And they have a dish named "The Summit of Sweetness". It's so sweet that it's not perceived as such, since the eater's taste buds are effectively "blinded" to sweet taste -- at least until it's washed away.
  • Jedi in Timothy Zahn's Star Wars Expanded Universe novels can choose to make any or every sense keener the better to hear near-inaudible noises, see in the dark, identify chemicals by scent, etc. Virtually every time they do so, though, they're half-deafened by someone murmuring quietly to them, a dim light, etc. and have to rapidly ramp their senses back down to normal.
  • In Tales of Kolmar, Marik of Gundar dons an Invisibility Cloak which also lets him see in the dark. However this also makes any source of light piercing and painful; he likens the full moon to being stabbed in the eye, and is in agony when he suddenly comes upon a lit torch.

Live Action TV

  • On Babylon 5, an unintentional version of this happens to latent telepaths when their powers "blossom", usually around puberty. Their formerly dormant powers become very active, and since they have no practice filtering the cacophony, they hear every thought of every around them. If this happens in a crowded area, such as at a marketplace, their clairaudience is "deafening" like a rocket engine.
  • When the young cast of Space Cases switch species, human Harlan gets Andromedan Radu's super hearing... and goes crazy from the agonizing physical pain caused by "hearing everything," with that everything "magnified about a million times." It takes Andromedans years of practice to filter out all this noise and focus only on what they want to listen to.
  • An interesting case on Doctor Who - Vincent van Gogh sees the world with far more vibrancy than everyone else. However, this perpetual sensory overload is a major cause of his depression and eventual suicide.
  • Happens occasionally on The Sentinel, like when Jim was driven to distraction by the pain of a minor wound on his hand because of his super-touch sense.
  • Rachel is prone to this in Alphas. Her ability to drastically increase one sense at the cost of diminishing the others kicks in unexpectedly, causing her to avoid sex, keep things obsessively clean, and insist on preparing food herself so she'll have control over everything that's gone into it.
  • In an episode of Heroes, Mohinder tortures Sylar by holding a tuning fork to his ear, oversensitising his Super Hearing.

Tabletop Games

  • The 2nd Edition Dungeons and Dragons supplement The Complete Thief's Handbook recommends using aniseed or dog pepper to throw off dogs that track by scent.
  • One issue of Adventurer's Club (an early house organ published by Hero Games) featured a villain with hypersenses. He became a villain because it was the only way he could pay for his sensory deprivation chamber, and without it he would have gone insane.
  • In Vampire: The Masquarade, the first trait of Auspex gives you awesome super senses... unless you get a light shined on you, or if a loud noise goes off. Then it just hurts.
  • Shadowrun
    • Hypersensitive senses, particularly pain, are among the unpleasant symptoms that a simsense addict will have to cope with, if they try to break the habit.
    • The Chaos spell overloaded the victim's senses with a cloud of sensations, including blinding sights, loud sounds, fierce odors and tickling. This caused major distraction and severe penalties to all of the victim's actions.
    • Could easily happen to someone who uses a defective simsense chip (which simulates a pre-recorded sensory experience), or one with it's safety constraints modded off, flooding the user with dangerous levels of sensory input.
    • Happens when one is "brainfried" from a matrix attack

Toys

  • Bionicle: Whenua manages to save Nuju and himself from a mutant Ussal Crab by spinning his Earthshock Drills fast enough to make a deafening hum to stun the crab, since it had enhanced hearing.
    • Onua managed to subdue a Subterranean Worm by making a painful sound that was effective due to its enhanced hearing.

Video Games

  • Two examples in the Legacy of Kain series:
    • In Defiance, Raziel battles his last remaining vampire brother, the bat-like Turel, by striking gongs to deafen and stun him.
    • In Soul Reaver, Raziel visits the Silenced Cathedral, a vast building housing a steam-powered sonic weapon that the humans intended to use to wipe out the vampires.

Web Original

  • The Whateley Universe has a couple examples, ranging from flashbangs grenades, to a massive sonic emitter on Halloween night that sent afflicted folks - many with super hearing - into various types of seizure.

Western Animation

  • The super-smelling Shirshu from Avatar: The Last Airbender is completely blinded when several liters of perfume are spilled onto the floor beneath him. Lashing out blindly with his poison tongue, he manages to hit Zuko, and then his own mistress.
  • In the series based on Disney's Hercules, a monster steals the heroic traits of all the heroes around. Hercules has a flash of inspiration and asks one who preciously had super vision what the worst part about it is; "Bright lights" is the answer and, indeed, one of the new Achilles Heels that the monster stole in the process.
  • Superman: The Animated Series
    • One of Darkseid's earliest attempts to defeat Superman included high-tech tanks that amongst other weaponry used high-pitched focused sound to great effect against Superman's super-hearing. Blood could be seen pouring out of Superman's ears in the aftermath.
    • In the Grand Finale, Darkseid also uses the Agony Matrix on Superman, which overloads the pain sensors of his body. As in, all of them, at once. It bypasses all natural defenses (since it doesn't actually damage the body) and would have killed any lesser being simply by shock.

Real Life

  • In World War II, after a destroyer dropped a pattern of depth charges, its sonar was deaf for several moments, giving a crucial window of escape to a fleeing submarine.
  • Flashbang grenades are designed specifically to cause sensory overload to both hearing and vision, incapacitating a target.
  • People with certain disabilities, most notably autistic people, often suffer from sensory overload. For example, a fire alarm, which for most people just grabs their attention and makes them want to leave the building, could make an autistic person feel anxious and disoriented for the rest of the day.
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