The suggestion that maladaptive behaviour often observed in survival incidents may be due to a restriction in attentional processing was tested using sub-components of the Test of Everyday Attention in participants undergoing a field survival exercise. Compared to a baseline condition and control group those undergoing environmental duress showed significant impairment in selective and sustained attention which taken together suggests dysfunction in controlled attention. No impairment was found in either attentional switching or auditory-verbal working memory. It is argued that this type of cognitive impairment makes flexible interaction with the survival environment difficult and the victim's behaviour becomes dominated by environmental cues at the expense of wilful, goal-directed survival behaviour. This would begin to answer at least one anomaly that exists in survivorship: why so many people perish when there is no need.