How Do Violent News Headlines Affect Your Brain? (Part 1)

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

With violent headlines continuing to dominate the media, it’s important to look for root causes in dangerous individuals. In this episode of The Brain Warrior’s Way Podcast, Dr. Daniel Amen and Tana Amen take a look into the 4 circles that influence a person’s behavior: psychological, biological, social, and spiritual.


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Dr. Daniel Amen: Welcome to the Brain Warriors Way podcast. I'm Dr. Daniel Amen.

Tana Amen: And I'm Tanna Amen. Here we teach you how to teach you how to win the right for your brain, to defeat anxiety, depression, memory loss, ADHD, and addictions.

Dr. Daniel Amen: The Brain Warriors Way podcast is brought to you by Amen Clinics where we've transformed lives for three decades using brain SPECT imaging to better target treatment and natural ways to heal the brain. For more information, visit

Tana Amen: The Brain Warriors Way podcast is also brought to you by Brain MD where we produce the highest quality nutraceutical products to support the health of your brain and body. For more information, visit Welcome to the Brain Warriors Way podcast.

So today we're gonna talk about a topic that actually creates a little heat in our house, right? We're gonna talk about violence, violence in the work place, violence in society. What really triggers people to be violent and where does evil come in? What's the difference between someone who's violent because they have something going on in their brain versus free will and someone who's just truly evil? This can trigger some very heated discussions in our home. We're gonna be honest.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Almost everywhere in our society now, and it's not stopping ... From the Capital Hill shooting of a congressman to what's happening in France, and in England, new shooting in San Francisco, and then Orlando. It's-

Tana Amen: And we need to have rational conversations and be empathic and thoughtful and at the same time look at all of the details, because we're not gonna all agree on this, right?

Dr. Daniel Amen: See, I never actually thought you would say empathic and try to understand-

Tana Amen: Yeah. I'm gonna try really hard. So, I didn't grow up in a great environment, right? So I've got some pretty strong opinions on things to say the least.

Dr. Daniel Amen: And maybe I've softened you over the years.

Tana Amen: I don't know about that. But because of our work I will say that I've become more able to at least look at a bigger picture, to be more well rounded. [crosstalk 00:02:38] It doesn't always change my opinion-

Dr. Daniel Amen:'s critical-

Tana Amen: ... but sometimes it does.

Dr. Daniel Amen: ... to understand the biological factors of violence, the psychological factors, the social factors, and the spiritual factors of violence. So I actually really never thought about it. I grew up in the San Fernando Valley. It was pretty safe where I grew up, and-

Tana Amen: Well, I grew up in part of the valley for a while when I was younger and it wasn't that safe.

Dr. Daniel Amen: The only violence I had to deal with was on the football field or sometimes my sisters would get a little crazy with each other. But I never really felt it, although I say that and I was beaten up every day of my life until I was about six. I had an older brother who until he figured out I was better playmate than punching bag. But when I started doing imaging it changed everything for me. I actually had no opinion of the death penalty. I didn't really think about it much and growing up Catholic they're sort of opposed to it.

But when I started our brain imaging work in 1991, very soon defense attorneys started sending me people that did really awful things and they'd go, "Can you help me understand why this person did this?" Whether it's a murder or a domestic violence case, or an arsonist. When I started to see the damage in their brain I began to think, is it really the sign of an evolved society to kill people? And then I read the quote from Dostoyevsky, the-

Tana Amen: Who I don't like-

Dr. Daniel Amen: ... famous Russian author.

Tana Amen: Just gonna throw that in there.

Dr. Daniel Amen: A brilliant author, who wrote The Brothers Karamazov and Crime and Punishment, and he wrote, "You can tell about the soul of a society not by how it treats its outstanding citizens but by how it treats its criminals." And-

Tana Amen: I think there's some truth to that, but-

Dr. Daniel Amen: ... that really stuck with me that whenever we talk about violence we want to try and go, "Why?" Because if you don't understand why it happens you can't do anything to fix it.

Tana Amen: That's where ... Now I'm gonna say that's where you get me. That's where you catch me.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Because you're bright.

Tana Amen: Right. Because I want to be able to stop the cycle. Right? I don't want kids going through what I went through. I don't want the shootings, you know work place shootings, and terrorists shootings to continue. So, understanding the psychology and the biology and the science of why this is happening, that's critical, that's important. If we-

Dr. Daniel Amen: Well, and the thing you-

Tana Amen: ... stop it before it happens-

Dr. Daniel Amen: ... and the thing that just made me so proud of you is when we worked at the Salvation Army in Anaheim-

Tana Amen: Oh, I wasn't gonna do it.

Dr. Daniel Amen: ... with a drug treatment with gang members and people that'd done some really awful things. You were like, "I can't do this."

Tana Amen: Oh, no. There was race, and a lot of things that I'm ... you know, crimes against children. I mean it was pretty awful, and so I came home. And I told you I wasn't gonna do it. I told you I couldn't do it. I said, "This time God picked the wrong person." And you told me, with that irritating smile that you have ... that one right there ... that husbands and psychiatrists have ... and you said, "No. God picked the perfect person." And I did not think I could do it. I struggled with myself. I was angry about it. I wanted to help Laura, I wanted to help the director very much 'cause I knew that what we do would help them. But I did not want to be around them and I hated myself for being that judgmental. But I know I am, I am that judgmental against people-

Dr. Daniel Amen: And so you helped them a lot and-

Tana Amen: And then I wort of fell in love with their stories and their healing. Yeah.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Because you realized it's more complicated than-

Tana Amen: Well, what I realized is-

Dr. Daniel Amen: ... it's good or evil.

Tana Amen: Here's what I realized. Here's what ultimately to me, is that for every person that I could help, that we could help, every person that actually legitimately changed ever if it was only 1%, which is wasn't, it was way more, but for every person that was helped that would be one less terrified child in the world. And that was the big Aha for me, is that it's not about me. It's not about my feelings about it. God asked me to do this and so it wasn't about me. That's really hard to do sometimes, is to put your own pride aside and your own fear, and do what your-

Dr. Daniel Amen: So let's talk about what causes violence. And it's not a simple answer. And anybody who gives you a simple answer, it's just wrong. Now, whenever we try to understand people here at Amen Clinics we always try to understand them in four circles, biological, psychological, social, and spiritual. We'll come back to biology.

But psychology is, "Did you grow up in a violent home? Was it modeled for you? Do you have negative thoughts?" And in worry in this political climate, there's so much anger, hatred-

Tana Amen: I've never seen it like this.

Dr. Daniel Amen: ... vitriol. I was just reading a story about what happened in Washington, D.C.-

Tana Amen: It was terrible.

Dr. Daniel Amen: ... and one of the congressmen said, "We have to stop the political terrorism." So-

Tana Amen: Why are we reading [crosstalk 00:08:41]

Dr. Daniel Amen: ... no matter what your position, you're a Republican or a Democrat, there's just hatred going-

Tana Amen: Right. Why?

Dr. Daniel Amen: ... both ways. And they're both wrong.

Tana Amen: But why?

Dr. Daniel Amen: As far as I'm concerned because we're-

Tana Amen: I don't want to fight with my friends who have a different-

Dr. Daniel Amen: ... now in a social media/Twitter cycle where the person who says the most awful thing get the most attention. And news media knows that it's the headlines that talk about crisis, that talk about, "Oh my god, I can't believe this just happened." That, that grabs the readers.

Tana Amen: But-

Dr. Daniel Amen: And so even though 50 awesome, positive things happen they're gonna go back to what's gonna drive clicks, and-

Tana Amen: Quite honestly, if I want to watch violence I'll turn on Game of Thrones. I can't watch the news. I just can't. It irritates me.

Dr. Daniel Amen: It's crazy.

Tana Amen: And I don't want to be wound up and I don't want to be mad at my friends who have a different view than I do. I can be friends with someone who doesn't have the same political or religious views that I have. I don't need that in my life and I don't understand why we are fighting each other when we have bigger wars to fight. There's gotta be a reason for it.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Couples, like 10% of couples, split up because they had different political views.

Tana Amen: It's ridiculous.

Dr. Daniel Amen: So, social. What's the stresses in your life now? Did you get fired from a job? The Orlando shooting where someone had been fired from a job.

Tana Amen: That happened at Lomalinda where I went to school. It's a Christian Hospital.

Dr. Daniel Amen: And I actually scanned the McDonalds killer who three years later went back to a McDonalds in northern California and shot up the place. His brain was so damaged. But he couldn't let go of the bad thoughts that he felt. And then there's a spiritual bankruptcy really in people who commit violence, that they don't know why they're on the planet, they don't have a deep sense of meaning and purpose-

Tana Amen: So its easy for them to-

Dr. Daniel Amen: ... to hurt other people. That's not religion. That's evil as you said. And I completely believe in evil. Although I was in court once in a death penalty case. Louis Peoples killed four people in 11 days on a methamphetamine run. The prosecutor hated me ... George something. And George hated me because I was giving the jury a reason-

Tana Amen: ... to doubt.

Dr. Daniel Amen: ... to have mercy. And he read my book "Change Your Brain ..."-

Tana Amen: So you wouldn't have wanted me on the jury?

Dr. Daniel Amen: Actually I would, 'cause you're a thoughtful person. And he said, "Dr. Amen, I read your book "Change Your Brain, Change Your Life." I said, "Oh, thank you." He said, "Well, I read that you grew up Catholic." I said, "Yes sir." He said, "Well as a Catholic-" and I said, "I grew up Catholic." He said, "As a Catholic do you believe in evil?" And I took a breath and I said, "Yes sir, I do believe in evil. But I would never call anybody evil unless I could scan them first." And he got mad, the jury started to laugh. Because Louis' brain was so damaged and when you understand the story of his life it's heartbreaking. Yes, he did something awful and his life is not an excuse for him to do bad things. He's not goin' home, he's gonna stay in jail. But do you really kill someone that's got a very damaged brain from repetitive injuries, from having untreated learning disabilities and ADD as a child. He was a bed wetter and how his parents tried to manage that is whenever he wet his bed they would tie him to a tree outside with his wet sheets. So he obviously had physical brain trauma, and you could see if on the scans, his brain was very damaged.

He had psychological damage. And as a way to medicate his very low activity brain he'd use methamphetamines because in low doses, which is actually what we use to treat ADD, in low doses they really helped him get focused and do work. At high doses they make you crazy and paranoid, and so on.

And he was spiritually bankrupt. So, if we're gonna understand ... and you know this story, it's the one that I always come back to, it's like the slam dunk story for me ... is when I'd been scamming people for about four years when I got at cal 10:30 one night from my sister-in-law Sherry who told me my 9-year-old nephew, who is my godson, attacked a little girl on the baseball field for no reason, out of the blue. And I'm horrified. And I'm like, "What else is going on with him?" And she said, "Danny, he's different. He's mean. He doesn't smile anymore. And I went into his room today and I found two pictures. One of them he was hanging from a tree by a noose. The other one he was shooting other children." And I was horrified, and I thought he had a left temporal lobe problem because at that point I had been scanning people for four years and a lot of the kids I see are violent, and they often had left temporal lobe problems.

And when I scanned him the next day he was missing his left temporal lobe. He had a cyst the size or a golf ball occupying the space of his temporal lobe. And when I finally got someone to take it out, his behavior completely went back to normal.

Tana Amen: Right.

Dr. Daniel Amen: And if you miss the biological piece, how do you help these people?

Tana Amen: Well, that's the part about our work that I love, is because you prevented a disaster with Andrew. We see that ... in our clinics I see that happen over and over and over, and that for me is what I love about our work. It's what I really fell in love with about you as a psychiatrist, what's so different, because I really didn't have a very high opinion of psychiatry in the past because it had hurt my own family. But when I really saw what we do here I just really fell in love with it.

We still, on this topic, need to address a couple of things.

Free will, where does ... So I know that I've got my own personal bias on all of this, right, because we all do. We have our own personal bias. So we have to learn I think if we're gonna be thoughtful ... I have to work really hard to set my own history aside when I'm judging this. So we see all of these bad things happening in the world, we have to set our own history aside. I think it's also really important when we're looking at this to go. "Okay, if someone wants to do something bad, they're gonna do a bad thing and it's not really about the vehicle they use, it's about treating the person." And we have to be very careful about that 'cause I'm like, people will go crazy over the gun issue and I'm not gonna get into that discussion one way or the other, but then you turn around and someone's using a bomb, or a knife, or a car. So it's-

Dr. Daniel Amen: Yeah, there's so many ways-

Tana Amen: ... we have to pay attention to the people-

Dr. Daniel Amen: ... to be violent.

Tana Amen: ... and what's happening with people, and treating that. And we also need to pay attention to what is free will? Because I do believe that there is free will, but obviously what you're saying is that it can be effected and if you're medicated or you have brain damage, what does that do to your free will? So, that's gonna really be hard for people who grew up very Christian or with certain religious beliefs to believe that free will is not always theirs.

Dr. Daniel Amen: When we come back we're gonna continue this discussion on some of the biological causes of violence. We'll also touch on social, psychological, and spiritual. So much to talk about. Stay with us.

Tana Amen: Thank you for listening to the Brain Warriors Way podcast. We have a special gift for you. It's an opportunity to win and evaluation at the Amen Clinics. All you have to do is subscribe to this podcast, leave a review, and rate us on iTunes.

Dr. Daniel Amen: To learn more about Amen Clinics and the work we do, go to You can also learn about our nutraceutical products at Thanks for listening.