How Do Violent News Headlines Affect Your Brain? (Part 2)

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

In part 2 of a discussion on violence and the brain, Dr. Daniel Amen and Tana Amen dig deeper into the 4 circles that influence a person’s behavior: psychological, biological, spiritual, and social. A significant lack in any of these circles can play a major role in inducing violent behavior, as seen in people such as former MMA fighter War Machine and Colorado shooter James Holmes.


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

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

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 BrainMD, 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.

Daniel Amen: We're back. We're talking about the four circles and violence, biological, psychological, social, spiritual. I want to read something from War Machine. War Machine was a well known mixed martial artist who was sentenced to 36 years to life in Nevada State Prison for kidnapping, beating, and sexually assaulting his ex-girlfriend, and also attacking someone else. He was convicted. This is what he said at the trial when he was sentenced.

"Not a day goes by that I don't seriously regret all those things that I did. I was a very, very lost, empty person." Empty person. So that's spiritual. "To top it off, something's not right in my head. Plain and simple. I've known that for a long time and I've hated it. I've hated the way that I think. I've hated my impulses. Half the time I don't know why I do some of the things I do, and some of the things I do, things ... And I don't even feel like I did them until they're already done. Smashing my face was like a sick form of therapy. It was the only thing I could to prevent myself from killing myself."

I always wondered why mixed martial arts, MMA fights, are legal, because we've scanned hundreds of NFL players. I've scanned world champion boxers like Muhammad Ali and Mike Weaver, and the level of brain damage is terrible. One of the things that's really important in a subject of violence is to talk about traumatic brain injury. That it's one of the major causes of suicide, homicide, domestic violence. Nobody knows that, because nobody's looking at the brains of people who do bad things except us.

Tana Amen: Before we go down that road, because when you read that quote, several things resonated with me. I identify myself as the protector, not the hurt, the person who harms people. I'm not the predator. I am the person who is the protector. So I'm the sheep dog, not the wolf. I would go to extremes to protect the people I love. He somehow became the predator in that whole thing. But there were things I actually could relate to that you were talking about. I don't know what environment he grew up in or whatever, but something popped in my head.

We talked a little bit about free will in the last one. We touched on it. When I was going through my health crisis, I mean I was really, really struggling, not only physically with my health, but because of what I was going through with my physical health, I went through a severe depression. That depression made me ... No one can explain it. It's like a pain you can't explain. I just wanted to die. I couldn't get out of bed. The answer, when I went to the doctor was, "You need some Prozac temporarily. You need Prozac."

Now that I know our work, Prozac was the exact opposite wrong drug to put me on. But that was the popular drug at the time. That was what every rep was handing out.

Daniel Amen: Without any biological data on you-

Tana Amen: Oh, no. They just-

Daniel Amen: Without imaging data on you-

Tana Amen: They went, "This is the new drug that's out right now." That's what they said. This is like the miracle drug we have. They handed me Prozac and they put me on ... I instantly didn't feel like dying. Okay, so that was a good thing. I didn't feel like dying. But the reality is, I didn't feel much. Okay, so I didn't feel much. Then after a couple weeks I felt pretty numb and I started to notice that I was impulsive. When you were describing him, I'm like, "Oh, my gosh." Like the numbness and then the impulsive behavior.

I went to the doctor and like, "Something's not right. I don't feel depressed. I don't want to die." I never was suicidal. I never actually thought about killing myself, but now I don't want to die. However, something's not right. I knew something wasn't right. His answer was to double the dose. I don't even need to tell you what a disaster that was.

Okay, I became someone else during that very short time. Now for fortunately for me, I'm fairly smart as a ... My IQ is decent, so it was a very short time before I went, "I don't like this person. I'm not behaving like me. I don't like it. I'm scaring the people that I love." I couldn't sleep right. Something wasn't right. I was just not me. When you were reading that, I completely identify with that. Not the violence. I was never violent. I could identify with the impulsivity and the not being yourself and not knowing why you're thinking the way you're thinking. I didn't understand and-

Daniel Amen: It's the common answer when people go to the doctor and say, "I'm not feeling right."

Tana Amen: Right. It's just that quickly-

Daniel Amen: Rather than look at their diet, look at their habits-

Tana Amen: Let's quickly give you a Band-Aid and-

Daniel Amen: Look at their supplements. It's on to this or that medication that may be more problems than there were.

Tana Amen: Right, and the other thing is-

Daniel Amen: It's because they're not looking also at your life in four circles like we talk about. You had also had thyroid cancer.

Tana Amen: I did, and no one explained to me-

Daniel Amen: Without your thyroid optimized-

Tana Amen: I didn't have a thyroid and I was on zero medication for several months, so I had no thyroid in my body.

Daniel Amen: That is one of the most common causes of depression.

Tana Amen: Right. I didn't have low thyroid, I had no thyroid. But I want to touch on something. With his brain type and my brain type, I can identify with certain things you're saying. Martial arts, people are drawn to that intense exercise. I'm drawn to extremely intense exercise. I practice martial arts. I have two black belts. I don't like getting my head hit, so I don't do that. I practice the ... I love just beating the hell out of something, okay? I love to kick stuff and hit stuff.

Daniel Amen: Not me.

Tana Amen: It's therapy for me. It's intense. It's like I leave there exhausted and spent, and it feels so good. But I don't like to get hit, okay? I don't like to get hit in the head. Do I get hit? Of course. It's not the goal for me and I don't get hit in the head. I rarely get hit in the head. That I understand. Martial arts, the benefits of martial arts you cannot minimize them. Not MMA. Not when the goal is to bash somebody's head in. Does that make sense? I just want to point out the benefits of that intense exercise, why people are drawn to it, when you have that kind of a brain, and they can be extremely beneficial.

Daniel Amen: The level ... Learning the complex moves is actually been shown-

Tana Amen: Absolutely-

Daniel Amen: In neuroscience studies-

Tana Amen: The empowerment-

Daniel Amen: To be good for your brain.

Tana Amen: The empowerment and self-control.

Daniel Amen: Getting hit in the head repeatedly is bad for your brain. Let's just get practical. If someone has problems with their temper and they have dark evil, awful thoughts, imaging can be so important, because you can actually uncover some of the reasons for violence and-

Tana Amen: If I had had this work when I went through what I went through, I hated psychiatry after that. That's why I almost canceled my first date with you when I found out you were a psychiatrist. But when I really saw what you ... Right? I know, that's so unfair. When I saw-

Daniel Amen: It's not unfair. I know a lot of psychiatrists and I wouldn't date them either.

Tana Amen: Right. But when I saw what we do, I literally ... I felt like it was unfair that I hadn't had this opportunity. Why didn't somebody do this when I needed it.

Daniel Amen: We're obviously very different. We're trying to create a revolution, and if we're right, it means they're wrong.

Tana Amen: Right. I wouldn't have been put on Prozac.

Daniel Amen: No, because if we would have scanned you, we would have shown that Prozac would hurt you.

Tana Amen: Right.

Daniel Amen: When I first started doing imaging in 1991, there was an article that came out from Harvard that on 30 cases where Prozac made them worse, often violent.

Tana Amen: This is too important. I have to explain why, because people are sitting there going, "Why?" Because if you're depressed, you're wanting an answer. Because my frontal lobes were a little sleepy. I have mild ADD. You put me on Prozac and I get severe ADD. Right? It drops those frontal lobes and I end up, "Yeah, I don't want to kill myself. I just want to go do crazy things." Now I don't have frontal lobes, that forethought and judgment. But something like Wellbutrin, or if you don't want to take medications, something that boosts dopamine, right?

Daniel Amen: Like SAMe.

Tana Amen: Right. On the natural side, Focus and Energy, which is a ... Tell them what's in Focus and Energy. It works beautifully for me.

Daniel Amen: It's green tea, rhodiola, ashwagandha, ginseng and choline. It's a wonderful-

Tana Amen: And intense exercise.

Daniel Amen: And exercise and fish oil and learning not to believe every stupid thing-

Tana Amen: I do all of the above-

Daniel Amen: You think. When we first met, I introduced you to my friend Byron Katie-

Tana Amen: Yeah, and I'm like, "Oh, great. More psychobabble."

Daniel Amen: Changed your life.

Tana Amen: Changed my life completely.

Daniel Amen: It's one of the reasons I think we have such a great relationship.

Tana Amen: Right. Now I teach it to everybody.

Daniel Amen: Because we invested in, for me first and then you, learning how to not believe every stupid [crosstalk 00:11:33] you have.

Tana Amen: So powerful, so powerful.

Daniel Amen: One of the interesting things ... So if you don't know Byron Katie, she's the author of Loving What Is, and she's just a wonderful teacher. She has the brain of a murderer. Remember when I scanned her?

Tana Amen: Yeah.

Daniel Amen: Before I scanned her, she was crazy.

Tana Amen: She was kind of-

Daniel Amen: Well, not before I scanned her, but before she had her-

Tana Amen: Before she had her breakthrough.

Daniel Amen: Her breakthrough. She was aggressive. She had dark thoughts-

Tana Amen: Her life was a disaster.

Daniel Amen: She was a suicidal. She had an eating disorder. She had an addiction. Her brain looked awful. Even though she's one of the most peaceful loving people you'll ever meet, she had a terrible brain until I met her, but she was still peaceful. Why?

Tana Amen: That's because she looked it.

Daniel Amen: Because biology is not the only answer to violence. It's part of the answer. She had a brain that was vulnerable to violence, but she wasn't because her psychological, social, and spiritual factors helped. It's sort of like software programs-

Tana Amen: Hardware.

Daniel Amen: Can help hardware problems.

Tana Amen: She spent hours every day programming like that bad hardware. She said I call it the work for a reason, because it's work. It doesn't have to be that hard. That's what I was finding. It doesn't have to be that hard if you have hardware and software that work well together.

Daniel Amen: If you a tendency to be violent, I would say, "Well what kind is it? Is it impulsive violence where you just get a thought and you act without thinking?" A lot of the violence we see is actually not that. It's compulsive violence. If you get a bad thought in your head and you can't let it go. If you think about stalkers or workplace violence, where somebody got fired three years ago and they come back, that's not impulsive. They've been thinking about that for a long time.

Then there's temporal lobe violence where you just have these bad thoughts, and often like with Andrew, my nephew, there is some damage to the amygdala in one, typically the left temporal lobe. Knowing what type, because it then leads to treatment. If you're impulsive, maybe you have ADD. We'll treat that. If you're compulsive, you can't let things go, we need to raise serotonin in your brain, and we can do that with supplements or antidepressants. If it's your temporal lobe because you had a head injury, we use anticonvulsants. Then we're always trying to repair your brain and get it to be the healthiest it can be. So we might, in people who have low activity, use hyperbaric oxygen.

There are so many different things to to do, but if you don't look at the brain that's struggling, you end up throwing darts in the dark, just like they did with you, and you hurt people. That's just wrong, when there is this technology out that can help.

Tana Amen: I want to give one last example, because I'm like, yeah, we've had a lot of arguments over how criminals should be treated in our house, but this goes to your point, okay, because he thinks I'm kind of this very intense person, and I am, but when you put it through the lens of what we do. So Aurora, Colorado. Right? The batman shooter, right, that went into the movie theater and shot all the people.

Daniel Amen: James Holmes.

Tana Amen: James Holmes. I still know people who think that that should have gone differently, right? That was a really horrific-

Daniel Amen: They should have killed him.

Tana Amen: They should have killed him. Normally I would be that person. But when you really understand ... See, now that I know the details of that story and I know what we do, I'm like, "Oh, that's actually a tragic story." He tried to get help.

Daniel Amen: His psychiatrist fired him.

Tana Amen: Right. He tried to get help. That's not fair. What would have happened to me-

Daniel Amen: But the profession, my profession-

Tana Amen: What would have happened to me if I didn't take myself off that medication and someone else then did something else that was different. It can happen ... The craziest things can happen to good people, if they try to get help and they're treated improperly.

Daniel Amen: Almost, not quite, but almost 100% of psychiatrists would never have looked at your brain, and so it would have been throwing darts in the dark, which is just stupid. Over the weekend, I was reading a book-

Tana Amen: But he knew he was sick.

Daniel Amen: It's a great book. It's called The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. It's like if I'm right, and I am, I know it, that means they're wrong.

Tana Amen: And they can't tolerate that.

Daniel Amen: And I'm a double board certified psychiatrist-

Tana Amen: But they can't tolerate that-

Daniel Amen: So I know exactly what they do with most people, and they virtually never look at the brains of the people who suffer and because of that, they hurt people. I keep wanting to write this book, Flying Blind and the Raping of the American Mind.

Tana Amen: Oh, my god.

Daniel Amen: Because that's exactly what I think is happening, that your mind got raped during that time. You went for help and he hurt you. That happens way too often, and in my mind, it's just unacceptable. Stay with us. We're going to keep talking about the Brain Warriors Way. We're so grateful you are on this path with us.

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

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.