Extremists: What Do Their Brains Look Like?

Dr Daniel Amen and Tana Amen BSN RN On The Brain Warrior's Way Podcast

Research using brain scans has shown us that people with extreme views tend to share similar aspects of brain function. In this first episode of a series on judgement, Dr. Daniel Amen and Tana Amen describe how the brain’s frontal lobes play a huge role in determining where people may fall on the political spectrum, and how they may even help explain the existence of such negative social phenomena as racism and mob mentality.

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Dr. Daniel Amen: Welcome to the Brain Warrior's way podcast. I'm Dr. Daniel Amen.
Tana Amen: And I'm Tana Amen. In our podcast, we provide you with the tools you need to become a warrior for the health of your brain and body.
Dr. Daniel Amen: The Brain Warrior's Way podcast is brought to you by Amen clinics, where we have been transforming lives for 30 years using tools like brain SPECT imaging to personalize treatment to your brain. For more information, visit Amenclinics.com.
Tana Amen: The Brain Warrior's Way podcast is also brought to you by Brain MD, where we produce the highest quality nutraceuticals to support the health of your brain and body. To learn more, go to Brainmd.com.
Dr. Daniel Amen: Hey everybody, we are so excited to be with you. We're going to call this week judgment week. I often tease Tana that I'm here with the judge-
Tana Amen: The jury, and the executioner.
Dr. Daniel Amen: And the executioner. But do you know that judging other people and judging situations is actually a brain function? There's a new study out on people who are radical politically, either to the left or to the right, and when they did cognitive testing, they found that the people who were most left and most right were cognitively rigid.
Tana Amen: Then I have a question. So if that's true, because I know many people, including myself, that this is true of.
Dr. Daniel Amen: Hang on just one second. Because what we want you to do is just think in your head where you are judgmental, and has that negatively impacted you in your life? Or have you felt, I certainly have, judged by others? I grew up with five sisters. And what kind of impact has that left on you in life? I'm sorry.
Tana Amen: No, it's okay. I just want to ask you about what you said about political people being extremes, because I know many people, including myself, who were more extreme when they were younger, but become more moderate and middle of the road when they're older. Now, is that a brain function or is that life experience that makes that happen?
Dr. Daniel Amen: Well, you know, it's always a combination of both. But when you're younger, your frontal lobes are less developed. They actually work harder, but they're less developed, and the most violent teenagers are actually the youngest teenagers. So, in group members-
Tana Amen: Yeah, I remember that.
Dr. Daniel Amen: It's sort of like a baby snake that would you rather get bitten by an adult rattler or a baby rattler? And you'd rather get bitten by an adult rattler because they can control how much venom they put into you, but a baby can't control it because their nervous system is less developed.
Tana Amen: Interesting.
Dr. Daniel Amen: And so, the super judgmental among us often have frontal lobes that work too hard. When I first started doing imaging, I found that people who were racist, their frontal lobes worked too hard. It was really interesting. So if things didn't go their way, they would become upset. On the surface it appears selfish, but really when you look at it from a neuroscience standpoint, it's not so much selfish as it is rigid, and there's a big difference.
Tana Amen: Okay. But we have to also look at the other side of this because-
Dr. Daniel Amen: Of course we do, because that's what we do.
Tana Amen: Because when you bring up things like racism, which has for so long been such an evil thing in our society, people have done evil things to people, that goes beyond being judgmental. There's something within you that thinks it's okay to hurt another person. Same thing when we talk about, the one thing I will never not be judgmental about is pedophiles. I don't care what anybody says, they should die. So, that's just not going to go away.
But my point with the things like racism, things like being judgmental about someone's gender or their color of their skin, throughout history people have done some pretty awful things to people, and that goes beyond judgment. I mean, that digs deeper than that, and people do it even in groups. So we have to talk about how, where judgment stops and it's not just about you being judgmental, it goes into why you think you have the right to do something evil to someone else.
Dr. Daniel Amen: Well, it's that extreme way of thinking and it's not all brains. So don't hear me say that, right? Those of you that listen to the Brain Warrior's Way podcast, know that Tana and I always talk in four circles, right?
Tana Amen: Right.
Dr. Daniel Amen: There's a biology, but nobody talks about the biology of racism. There's a psychology. How are you thinking about the other person? There's a social circle. Which tribe do you belong to? And if your tribe hates another tribe, and sometimes that happened out of survival. If your tribe hates another tribe, well if you don't hate them, then your own tribe might disown you, which is then potentially lethal for you, right? Humans are a group species because we survive better in a group. And then there's the spiritual, which is, well why the heck do you care?
And all sorts of atrocities have happened with biological problems, psychological problems, social problems, and spiritual problems. Many people have been killed in the name of God of whatever-
Tana Amen: Right. Whatever you believe in.
Dr. Daniel Amen: Whatever you believe in. But the point of judgment week is all of us judge.
Tana Amen: Everybody.
Dr. Daniel Amen: All of us have been judged. And I just want you to just take a step back and think, "I wonder how my brain was involved in that?"
Tana Amen: Yeah. It's not always to the extreme of I'm racist against an entire group of people. I mean, we all judge. That person's a jerk. Right? You're judging them for something and then it gets carried on. But we also, in the next podcast maybe let's talk about why judgment with something's is good and can save you. We have to talk about both sides of this.
Dr. Daniel Amen: Absolutely. So, what are you hearing? I'd love for you to post it in any of your social media about judgment. Where have you been judged? Where have you judged others? Is it possible that there was actually a brain component to it? Sometimes the impulsive, stupid things people say, it's because they have low frontal lobe function.
I was actually talking to a professor last night about the difference between impulsivity and compulsivity, and people often mistake those. They often say they're impulsive when in fact they're not. So impulsive is I get a thought and I just say it without processing it, or I get an idea to do something and I just do it without thinking about it. Compulsive is I get a thought and I have to say it, or compulsive as I think I should do a behavior and then I have to do it. And they're often mistaken for each other.
So, let me just summarize. Judgment is in part a brain function, and if your brain is working right you're much more likely to make rational judgments than it's not. If you find yourself far, far left or far, far right, then you just want to ask yourself, "Am I extreme in other areas of my life?"
My experience is some people who are, they're not that tolerant at home, and if things don't go their way, they might have a tantrum or they may become hostile or negative toward their spouse, toward their child. If you have been what you might think is overly judgmental, see if some of these symptoms may apply to you. That you tend to worry, hold grudges. If things don't go your way, you tend to get upset. You can be easily argumentative or oppositional.
And my experience looking at scans, is there's lower levels of serotonin. Serotonin is an inhibitory neurotransmitter, which means it calms things down, and sometimes that could help. So taking our brain type test, so know your brain type. You can take it for free at brainhealthassessment.com.
Whenever you talk about your stepdad, we'd just dearly love to have seen his brain.
Tana Amen: Well and I have no doubt that he had the bio, psycho, social, spiritual, we had all four things going on. He was very, very rigid politically. He was very racist. He was a bigot. He grew up in a generation and a place where that was acceptable. It was really hard to be around him a lot of the time. And if anything, I'm somewhat grateful for it, because he was so annoying with it that it caused me to look outside of his belief system. I did not accept it because it was so annoying, and I'm glad for that. I'm actually grateful for that. I never thought it was correct.
Dr. Daniel Amen: So, because you've been around people who have been like that, and so that would be a social modulation of the behavior.
Tana Amen: Right.
Dr. Daniel Amen: And since he was your step-dad, you didn't inherit the same genetic vulnerabilities that he had.
Tana Amen: Right. It just never made sense to me.
Dr. Daniel Amen: And so whenever you think about judgment, either you've been judgmental or other people have been judgmental to you, you always want to go, "So, what was going on in their brain and what was going on in their mind, or what in their connections or their sense of spirituality?" All of this matters.
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