Why Do Good People Do Bad Things?

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

“Think Different” was a popular Apple ad campaign in the late 90’s that was intended to recognize the revolutionary power in thinking outside the box. The same approach can and should also be taken into consideration when addressing the poor decision-making habits of others. In episode 6 of the Success Starts Here series, Dr. Daniel Amen and Tana Amen discuss how we can change our paradigm in these situations to first ask why, and then get these people help.


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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. Here we teach you how to win the fight for your brain to defeat anxiety, depression, memory loss, ADHD, and addictions.

Dr. Daniel Amen: The Brain Warrior's 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 amenclinics.com.

Tana Amen: The Brain Warrior's Way Podcast is also brought to you by BrainMD, where we produce the highest quality nutraceuticals products to support the health of your brain and body. For more information, visit brainmdhealth.com. Welcome to The Brain Warrior's Way Podcast.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Success starts here. One of my favorite lessons is thinking different. When people do bad things, ask why. Then, get them help. You know, it's one of the reasons I became a psychiatrist, is I really wanted to understand why people did whatever they did, why I did whatever I did. Then, when we started imaging, everything changed. I mean, everything in my life changed. Then, I got brutally criticized by my colleagues. That was extremely painful. Then, I think it was 2002, Apple's iconic Think Different commercial came out, and it's my favorite commercial of all time. It was called Think Different. It was in response to IBM's commercial about their computer Think and the ThinkPad.

Tana Amen: Interesting.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Apple came out, because of course, they're different and think different. It's said, "Here's to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in square holes, the ones who see things differently, they're not fond of rules. They have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify, or vilify them. About the only thing you can't do is ignore them, because they change things. They push the human race forward. While some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius, because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do."

Tana Amen: That's actually great. That's actually really great.

Dr. Daniel Amen: When I was growing up, I grew up Roman Catholic, not-kidding Catholic, as I like to say. My mom was really serious. I went to Catholic school, and I was an alter boy. The lore in my family, maybe in your family, too, was that if you worked hard and did the right thing, you would be successful. And if you were lazy and didn't work hard, you wouldn't be successful. It sort of worked for my mom and dad. I mean, my dad grew up very poor-

Tana Amen: My mom, too.

Dr. Daniel Amen: ... and ended up owning a chain of grocery stores and become the chairman of the board of a $4-billion company, Unified Grocers. I had that sort of mindset: work hard; it's going to be okay. And, it worked for me. But then, when I started looking at people's brains, I'm like, "Oh, it's more complicated than that." As our imaging work became more well known, defense attorneys starting sending us people who did really bad things.

Then, I got asked to testify in death penalty cases. Initially, the lore in my family, my dad would say things like, "Kill the bastard. He deserves to die." It just started making me uncomfortable because I went, "Behavior is way more complicated than just free will, than just a choice, that not everybody has the same level of free will."

Tana Amen: That is really a hard one to get into and wrap your brain around.

Dr. Daniel Amen: It is, and it's different. But yet, the science is clear that homeless people ... There's a study from Toronto. 58% of the homeless men had a significant brain injury before they were homeless.

Tana Amen: That's amazing.

Dr. Daniel Amen: 42% of the homeless women had a significant brain injury before they were homeless. Is that their fault? Lead exposure, like what's going on in Flint, Michigan with lead in the water. Lead exposure clearly is a neurotoxin. It leads to learning programs, behavior problems, mood problems. Is that their fault? Probably not. In thinking different, when people do bad things, you have to assess them in the four circles, that you and I often talk about, and you help them in those four circles. Somebody, I don't know who, cut a six-minute segment of a talk I did at Saddleback Church-

Tana Amen: Crazy.

Dr. Daniel Amen: ... where I talk about my nephew, Andrew, who attacked a little girl on the baseball feel for no particular reason. You can see the story on Illumeably, you know-

Tana Amen: It got like 21 million views. Something insane.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Right. By the time the people here watch it, it may have 30 million views. But you know, my nine-year-old nephew attacks a little girl on the baseball field for no reason, out of the blue. His mom calls me up crying. I'm like, "What else is going on?" She said, "Danny, he's different. He's mean. He doesn't smile anymore." I went into his room and found two pictures he had drawn. One of them, he was hanging from a tree. The other one, he was shooting other children. Andrew was Columbine, Aurora, Sandy Hook waiting to happen. When we scanned him, he had a cyst in his left temporal lobe. When we took it out, his behavior immediately went back to normal.

Tana Amen: Yeah, it's a-

Dr. Daniel Amen: So when people do bad things, you have to ask why, and get them help. And why do you do that? Because it's the most thoughtful thing to do. It's the most loving thing to do. The easy thing to do is judge them as bad. That's the easy thing, and throw them away. Put them in a cage. Kill them, and-

Tana Amen: We have to put some of them in cages. I'm sorry. I'm going to push back. They need to be in cages.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Well, some of them, we need to protect people from society. But what we don't do is ask why, and then try to get them help. By putting them in a cage, we are making them worse. We just have to be clear. It's about-

Tana Amen: I understand, but you're phrasing it ... Hold on, because there are people who have had bad things done to people they love. I'm going to push back for a minute. So no one said we didn't get controversial on this show. You call it a cage, I call it keeping society safe, so ...

Dr. Daniel Amen: You absolutely have to do that. But in the process of keeping society safe, the human thing to do is to understand their behavior so when they get out, and almost everybody does, they don't have to go back. We don't do that.

Tana Amen: I agree with you.

Dr. Daniel Amen: The prison system-

Tana Amen: We need to do a better job. I agree.

Dr. Daniel Amen: ... in the US is about vengeance. It's not about rehabilitation. Vengeance, we incarcerate more people in the United States per capita than anywhere-

Tana Amen: Yeah, our crimes rate's insane.

Dr. Daniel Amen: ... in the world, than anywhere in the world. Clearly, our justice system is broker. There's a study out of Washington State. There was a judge, David Admar, out of Redmond, Washington. Have you heard me tell this story? He had two adopted kids who had learning disabilities and ADD. He's like, "Everybody who's coming in front of me reminds me of my kids." If you got convicted of a crime in his courtroom, he had you screened for ADD and learning disabilities.

Tana Amen: That's amazing.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Then, if you were guilty, part of your sentence was he court-ordered you to a 14-week course to learn about what you had.

Tana Amen: But, that's amazing.

Dr. Daniel Amen: For every dollar they spent on these kids, the state of Washington saved seven.

Tana Amen: Wow.

Dr. Daniel Amen: There's another way, so you have to be thinking about when people do bad things, ask why and get them out. Now, not everybody wants help.

Tana Amen: And not everybody should get out of jail.

Dr. Daniel Amen: And not everybody should get out of jail, because our first-

Tana Amen: Sorry.

Dr. Daniel Amen: ... responsibility is to protect society, but our next responsibility is to ask why and see if it's not because they had Lyme disease, or if it's not because they had a brain injury, or because they have mercury toxicity. You got to ask yourself why. So you and I, we always talk about a biopsychosocial, spiritual way to assess people in those four circles. And then, we treat them in those four circles, and that's where our imaging work has just helped us so much. But if you miss the biology, you miss being able to help them. So with Andrew, it really wasn't a psychological, or a social, or even a spiritual problem. It was a biological problem. When the cyst was drained, his behavior went back to normal.

Tana Amen: It's so interesting, because I wasn't with you at that time that that happened, but when I met Andrew ... I mean, I know Andrew now, and he's just the sweetest kid. I mean, now he's married. He just got married. But I mean, I can't really imagine him being that way, so it's very interesting.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Right. He was one of the lucky ones to have somebody who loved him paying attention to his brain.

Tana Amen: Well, and going to the right person who knew what to do for it. There are a lot of people who have people who love them, but they get the wrong treatment. They get the wrong treatment. It's not fair.

Dr. Daniel Amen: We just need to do a better job with judgment. When people do bad things, so there's three areas of the brain to assess, so their prefrontal cortex, the executive part of the brain, focus, forethought, judgment, impulse control, empathy, learning from the mistakes you make. I treated one guy who could never let anything go. He was fighting with his neighbors over treats on an easement. He lost the case in court. One day, he wakes up to the sound of a chainsaw. He calls 911, and he said, "I'm going to go kill the bastards." Then, he puts the phone down, takes the gun, and goes and shoots them. Then, he comes back and calls 911 again. He said, "I told you I was going to shoot them."

It was part of a death penalty case. I'm on the stand. The judge said ... Not the judge, the prosecutor says, "Well, he called 911 ahead of time. Doesn't that indicate good planning?" In my head, I'm thinking, "You're an idiot," but I didn't say it, right? Because I have good frontal lobe function. I stopped, took a breath, and I said, "No, it indicates bad planning." Who would call 911 before they went to kill people, right?

You get a bad thought, "I'm going to shoot these people," good frontal lobes, because even with good frontal lobes, you get the bad thought. A good frontal lobes will go, "Play that thing out. You're going to be in a cage. They're going to feed you bad food. You're not going to have sex with your wife. It's not going to be good. You're not going to look good in orange," right? I mean, play this thing out. You know, I think he called 911 to protect himself, to protect himself from the impulses, because he knew he had no control.

Tana Amen: Interesting.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Now, does that mean he gets to go home? Absolutely not. But does the mean we should kill him? Absolutely not, at least in my opinion. Or, well, what if your cingulate's overactive? You can't let anything go. I had a police officer, who I loved. His name was Seth. He had six back surgeries. He was so tired of the pain. He could never get away from the pain. He tried to kill himself. I met him in the psychiatric hospital after he was awake, after the overdose. As I scanned him, he had the hottest cingulate I'd seen at that time. He's like, "I hurt, and I can never stop thinking about it." I put him on an SSRI, a medicine to calm down his cingulate. When he left the hospital, "I'm not suicidal anymore. I still hurt, but I don't think about it all the time."

Tana Amen: Oh, interesting.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Yeah.

Tana Amen: So it wasn't obsessing about it.

Dr. Daniel Amen: He wasn't obsessing about it.

Tana Amen: Oh, that's fascinating.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Then, we have to obsess when we have to assess the temporal lobes, because they are often involved in violent, aggressive behavior, like with Andrew, or a number of other stories. The point of this lesson is when people do bad things, ask why, and then get them help. Stay with us. Thank you for listening to The Brain Warrior's Way Podcast. Go to iTunes and leave a review, and you'll automatically be entered into a drawing to get a free signed copy of The Brain Warrior's Way and The Brain Warrior's Way Cookbook we give away every month.