The Voices of War

37. Dr Douglas Fields - On ‘Why We Snap‘ And Our Neural Wiring For Violence

VOW 37 | Neural Wiring

 

Today, I spoke with Dr Douglas Fields, who is a neuroscientist and author of numerous books and articles about the brain. We discussed his excellent and important book, Why We Snap: Understanding the Rage Circuit in Your Brain, which focuses on the neuroscience that triggers rage and violence. It turns out, evolution has endowed every single one of us with nine neural pathways that, when activated, will lead to a violent and oftentimes involuntary and non-conscious response. During our chat, Doug explained these circuits—captured in the mnemonic LIFEMORTS—and how they relate to many important issues, including: their applicability to our interpersonal relationships; origins in threat detection; their unconscious nature and subsequent voluntary expression; impact of social media and technology; disproportionate effect of stress; power of genes and the environment; manifestations of violence in different genders; utility in peacebuilding; training of responses; role in PTSD and, perhaps most-importantly, geopolitics and war.

 

Several previous episodes that link to the topics we discussed include:

Role of the environment:

Geopolitics:

PTSD and trauma

I also mentioned an article I recently published on the state of Western democracy, grey zone warfare by authoritarian states and how social media is contributing to a build-up of tension in our societies. You can view the article here.

Full show notes:

My guest today is Dr Douglas Fields, who is a neuroscientist and author of numerous books and articles about the brain.  He is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, University of Maryland adjunct professor, and Chief of the Nervous System Development and Plasticity Section at the National Institutes of Health.  He received advanced degrees at UC Berkeley, San Jose State University, UC San Diego, and was a postdoctoral fellow at Stanford and Yale University. 

 

He writes about science for Scientific AmericanQuantaOutside MagazineHuffington PostUndark MagazinePsychology Today, and similar prestigious outlets.  His neuroscience research has been featured on national television, radio, NPR, the National Geographic and others, and he speaks about neuroscience for the general public on mediums like NPR, World Science Festival, TEDex and Google Talks. 

He is the author of three books about neuroscience for the general reader, The Other Brain, about glia, which are brain cells that communicate without electricity, Why We Snap, about the neuroscience of rage, and his new award-winning book, Electric Brain, about brainwaves, brain-computer interface, and brain stimulation. Some of the topics we discussed today include: 

  • Doug’s personal experience with sudden aggression
  • Evolutionary reason why we need triggers for sudden aggression
  • Unconscious nature of this mechanism
  • Explanation of LIFEMORTS
  • Voluntary expression of unconscious mechanisms
  • Our volition and culpability for violence
  • Impact of social media and technology
  • Disproportionate effect and impact of stress
  • Link between violence and gender
  • The ‘lizard brain’ debunked
  • LIFEMORTS in geopolitics
  • The role and impact of stress
  • Utility of LIFEMORTS in peacebuilding
  • Training the conscious and unconscious responses
  • Impact of genes and environment
  • Role in PTSD

Listen to the podcast here

 

Dr Douglas Fields – On ‘Why We Snap‘ And Our Neural Wiring For Violence

Over the past few episodes, I’ve shared with you a few milestones that we’ve reached. We’ve sailed through 20,000 and are very close to 25,000 downloads. According to Listen Notes, The Voices of War is still trending in the top 3% of all shows globally. If you haven’t yet given us a five-star rating or written a review, maybe consider doing that now. If easier, you can simply share this episode with your followers on social media. Let’s go and meet our next guest, the neuroscientist, Dr Douglas Fields. This discussion is without a doubt been one of the most impactful ones I’ve had. I hope you feel the same.

My guest is Dr Douglas Fields, a neuroscientist, and author of numerous books and articles about the brain. He is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, University of Maryland adjunct professor and Chief of the Nervous System Development and Plasticity Section at the National Institute of Health. He received advanced degrees at UC Berkeley, San Jose State University, and UC San Diego and was a postdoctoral fellow at Stanford and Yale University.

He writes about science for Scientific American, Quanta, Outside Magazine, Huffington Post, Undark Magazine, Psychology Today, and similar prestigious outlets. His neuroscience research has been featured on National Television, radio, NPR, National Geographic and others. He speaks about neuroscience for the general public on mediums like NPR, World Science Festival, TEDx and Google Talks.

He is the author of three books about neuroscience for the general reader. The Other Brain is about glia, which are brain cells that communicate with our electricity. Why We Snap is about the neuroscience of rage, and his new award-winning book, Electric Brain, is about our brainwaves, brain-computer interface and brain stimulation. Doug, it is a pleasure to host you on the show. Welcome.

Thank you so much for having me in your program.

I have finished your excellent book, Why We Snap and look forward to exploring how it relates to war and conflict. Before we start, a little bit about your background. How did you come to be interested in the brain and neuroscience?

My degree is in Marine Biology. I was always studying nervous systems. I studied the brains and sensory systems of sharks and related species. I did a lot of the early pioneering work showing that sharks can detect bioelectric fields. That led to an increased interest in the nervous system. I turned entirely to studying the nervous system, how it develops, and the cellular mechanisms of learning and plasticity.

Was there a natural transition from that into the human brain and how the human brain works?

The point of all the research I’m doing is to understand how the human brain works. I was interested in comparative zoology. That also gives a lot of insight into the human brain to compare how human brains are similar and different from other animals. Most of my research now, although it is on experimental animals, is directed at understanding human behaviour and brains.

I’m not a psychologist. I am a nuts-and-bolts neuroscientist. I’m interested in how the cells and molecules in the brain allow the brain to do all the things it does. What gives a different perspective on the subject of sudden aggression is it is a different look coming out from new techniques and findings in the field that haven’t gotten out to the general public. I was excited to try and share these new findings.

Your book does that exceptionally well. You manage to put so much neuroscience in terminology that people like myself can easily understand. That is a great success of the book because neuroscience, as a field, is somewhat distant from the general public. It seems difficult to discuss the brain and what the brain does without dedicating arguably a lifetime to it and understanding it. That is something that your book does exceptionally is to bridge that gap.

The topic of aggression and violence, looking at it from a different perspective, strikes me as vitally important because we don’t understand it that well, and we haven’t been able to unpack it sufficiently to prevent it from occurring. You start the book with an interpersonal relationship with some aggression. Maybe you can tell us a little bit about how the book opens up and what led to writing this book.

My interest in the subject began with an incident in Barcelona. I travel the world to go to scientific meetings and to present my research, as all scientists do. Usually, I go alone, but this time I had brought my daughter, who graduated from high school. She was seventeen years old. Before my lecture, we thought we would see the Gaudi Cathedral in Barcelona.

Coming up out of the subway, I suddenly felt this tap in the cargo pocket above my knee where I kept my wallet, and my wallet was gone. In a fraction of a second, I grabbed a guy who was behind me. The way these guys work is there is a pickpocket. He grabs your wallet, turns around and hands it to another member who runs off. I grabbed the guy, flipped him, and jumped on his back. I’m on the ground and have him in a headlock. At that point, there is a bubble up in my brain. I was like, “What are you doing?”

The brain caught up, but then it was a fight. It was him or me. I’m in a fight with a street thug. That was the wrong thing to do. If you have been robbed, the right thing to do is give the person your wallet. Had I thought about it, I never would’ve done that, but I didn’t think. I don’t want to go on with this story, but there is a lot of interesting biology in this story. I realised I didn’t think.

If something in my environment could trigger me to engage in a life or death or life or limb battle with no conscious thought, I wanted to understand how that worked at the level of the brain at the neuroscience level. That is what led me to this research. I realised this is the fundamental behaviour of snapping, which is bewildering. This led to a deeper understanding of these perplexing situations of sudden aggression we read about in the paper from so-called normal people, people who are not psychopaths.

The surprising thing I didn’t anticipate until I was writing the book, and this comes in the third part of the book, was the realisation that this same neural circuitry and the same neuroscience of individual aggression provided an understanding of aggression among groups, gangs, nations, and wars. That is how I became interested, and it is fascinating biology. I need to tell folks I’m not Arnold Schwarzenegger. I weigh 135 pounds, have rim glasses, and have grey hair. I have no martial arts or fighting experience. The fact is we are all wired for aggression. We don’t have to be taught. We have this circuitry for aggression because we need it for survival reasons.

That was my natural follow-on question. What is the reason for this mechanism? What function does it serve? In this instance, you snapped. Arguably, it wasn’t the right thing to do, but it worked out well for you in this case. What is the actual evolutionary function of this circuit or this mechanism?

This is a threat detection mechanism. It seems that anything can cause this sudden aggressive response. We see road rage, wars, and things we read about in the paper, but it is not true. There are only nine specific triggers that will activate this response because this is looking at aggression as a behaviour. All behaviours are controlled by the brain. We have new methods to be able to trace the circuits controlling these behaviours. That is what is different about it. Fundamentally, this is a threat detection mechanism. You are not going to engage in a violent exchange, except for some good reasons that our brains and survival of the fittest engineered our brains to cope with.

These are threats to our survival. It is highly regulated. We don’t engage in aggression except when it is one of these nine life-threatening situations. We know they are different circuits for each of these threats. The important thing to realise when you realise this is a threat detection mechanism and response is that in the face of a sudden threat, there is no time to think. If you deliberate, you are dead. On the athletic field, they call it paralysis by analysis. It is all done unconsciously.

VOW 37 | Neural Wiring
Neural Wiring: Our threat detection mechanism and response awaken in the face of a sudden threat. There’s no time to think. If you deliberate, you are dead.

 

That is the component that I find fascinating. It all happens below the surface. The conscious mind catches up after the fact.

We know how this works at a neuro-circuit level. I will give you an example. Let’s say you were walking across the parking lot, and suddenly, somebody pulls out and almost hit you. You jump out of the way and avoid that. You go, “What was that?” You haven’t even seen what the threat is. Another example would be avoiding a football thrown, and you only see it in your peripheral vision. You bat it away before you can even know what is going on, and you go, “What was that?”

What happens at a neuro-circuit level is the brain’s threat detection mechanism, which is centred on the amygdala, and the limbic system takes in information from all of our senses by high-speed connections that go there before they go to your cerebral cortex. Your cerebral cortex is where you have conscious awareness. In order to dodge a blow to a chin, it has to be rapid. For example, if something is entering your visual field, that information can go to the amygdala and say, “That shouldn’t be in my space. That is a threat.”

Imagine how the brain can take in all this information, internal state, and external state, and put you on a deliberative course to evade that threat course of action, and you are not even consciously engaged yet. The second pathway goes to the cerebral cortex which analyses and goes much more slowly so that you can see, “Was that a basketball or a fist that came at me?” That is all after the fact.

That is what happened to me in Barcelona because I grabbed that guy within a fraction of a second. I hadn’t even seen him, and I didn’t even know who I had. I’m on the ground worrying, “Did I grab the right guy?” What I realised is I’m walking around Barcelona with my daughter fully engaged, taking in all the sites, and trying to understand where to go, but your brain’s threat detection mechanism is always on the lookout, crunching enormous amounts of data and looking for threats. It was aware of this person coming up to me, and although I wasn’t consciously aware, it wasn’t a little old lady I threw on the ground. It was the bad guy.

It is an incredible system. Evolution has given it to us for a good reason for that to protect the organism. Those nine triggers you refer to all of them can happen or do happen non-consciously, is that right?

That is right.

That is fascinating. We will talk firstly about the personal level, but when we start zooming out into society, we can have the macro level. We can delve into what those triggers are because you use a particular mnemonic to help us record them. That is a useful way to have these in our minds.

A lot of times, in science, the concepts are not that difficult. It is the jargon and verbiage that are terrible, especially in the brain, all those Latin words for all the parts of the brain, but often, it is not that complicated. It is not explained. I created this mnemonic called LIFEMORTS. Every letter stands for a different threat that will trigger a violent response. These are discrete circuits in the brain that control different threats.

For example, L is for Life or Limb. That is also called defensive aggression. If you are attacked, you will fight. You won’t think about it. If somebody bumps you in a crowd, you instantly tense up, and you are ready to fight. We can see it is obvious. If you are physically attacked, there is nothing else to lose. That is number one. People are familiar with that.

If you are attacked, defensive aggression makes you fight back. You won’t think about it. Share on X

It is a natural response when life or limb is under threat to fight back. It is an intuitive one.

All animals have that. When we talk about war, that is paramount. I’m going to jump ahead for conceptual rather than going to order. F is for Family Trigger. Everyone knows about the mama bear response. You don’t get between a mother or bear and her cubs. It is the same thing with a human being. There are all kinds of stories of mothers coming to the aid of their children who are attacked. That is biology. It is not just women. We are shocked to see a woman become violent to protect her offspring. That is why I call that F for Family Trigger. People are familiar with those.

Going back now, in order of LIFEMORTS, I is for Insult. This has to do with rank in society. All animals who are social animals maintain their rank by aggression. Humans are social animals. Our survival and success on this planet depend on us being able to have a cooperative society. Your rank in society determines your access to resources. As an animal, the rams are batting heads. Access to resources, mates, and status is maintained by aggression.

We have that same circuitry. The human world is a more complex world but insult is the cause of aggression or brawls. At one time, duels to death were perfectly acceptable in all cultures over an insult. If you are on the road and somebody makes a hand gesture that is obscene, you get angry. Anger only serves one purpose. That is to prepare you to fight.

E is for Environment. That is to protect your territory. Not all animals are territorial, but humans are fiercely territorial. At least in this country, you can use deadly force if somebody invades your home. Defending borders is the cause of international conflict. It goes with that saying that all animals, including human beings, maintain their borders through violence. The reason for that is biology. Our home or our country is necessary for our survival. That is where we have food, resources, and shelter.

VOW 37 | Neural Wiring
Neural Wiring: Home or country is necessary for our survival. It is where or food, resources, and shelter can be found.

 

M is for Mate. Many animals and vertebrates use aggression to secure and maintain mates, certainly, higher primates. That is the cause of a lot of aggression and infidelity. I’m afraid it is a factor in war. Rape and violence against women are used in war. This is a deeply ingrained biological aggressive mechanism. O is for Order in Society. Human beings can’t exist alone. We need to be part of society. Our societies are highly structured and ordered. They are maintained by violence or aggression. Animals will do this with outright aggression, but we use various means of aggression. Taking away a person’s money, putting them in jail, and capital punishment are all forms of aggression to maintain the order of society. We are accustomed to it that we don’t realise how exceptional this is.

The reason for our success on the planet is we can’t form these cohesive groups. If somebody cuts in a line sign or runs a stop sign, we are instantly angry. You don’t have to think about it. This anger comes up and wells up. That is because human beings maintain order by aggression. It is only in the last few hundred years that we had police. Throughout human history, it has been every individual’s responsibility to maintain order in society.

That is the purpose of social norms. Before, we had modern states of religion to force order on a society that would otherwise we would be anarchy. It makes intuitive sense that we can all relate to the example you have mentioned of road rage. When somebody cuts in, they go against the established order, certainly for our society. In other cultures, that may not be a social norm that would constitute a breach of the order and, therefore, invoke anger.

We come to a point where we discuss what controls this circuitry because it is also under control. I interviewed for the book not only people like Secret Service Agents and SEAL Team 6 members but also passive people who are strictly nonviolent. There are controls on this circuitry when there is time. Back to LIFEMORTS, R is for Resources. Violence is used to obtain resources. That is obvious. We see that in the animal world all the time. We respond to theft with aggression. That is what happened to me in Barcelona.

T is for Tribe. In the early history of homo sapiens, you knew everybody in your tribe personally. An encounter with another tribe was a threat to resources. We have this ingrained ability to form tribes. We also have the ability to defend them with aggression. You cannot have the concept of a nation, a religion, or a gang without seeing other people as different in those respects.

VOW 37 | Neural Wiring
Neural Wiring: We have an ingrained ability to form tribes and defend them with aggression, but only after seeing other people as different from a concept of a nation or religion.

 

When you meet or encounter somebody on the street, brain imaging shows that within a fraction of a second, 50 milliseconds, you divide that person into either them or us. This person is either one of us or one of them. What us or them is pretty arbitrary. It is defined by your upbringing that has been shown. That is essential for our survival but also the key to our success. We can compete with the Russians and go to the moon.

The final one is S for Stop. That is restraint aggression. If you are stopped or an animal is restrained, you will fight aggressively to break free. Anyone will do that. This explains why you get angry when you are on the road. You are held up and get angry. You get angry when your internet connection fails. You are being impeded. That is what you need to ask. Why do I get angry and not sleepy or bored? You get angry and you want to kick your computer. You have that feeling.

I’m afraid it is obvious that war blockades and oil embargoes are provocations for war. One of the provocations of World War II was the oil embargo against the Japanese. It is important to realise what these triggers are because if a situation is presenting them, you can understand you are in a situation designed biologically to result in rapid aggression. If you can recognise them, we need to realise the second important thing is that these are not malfunctions. We have these circuits because we need them. That is how we have armies and police. A policeman will risk his or her life to defend his or her people.

That is remarkable. It is not a malfunction, but like any threat detection mechanism, it can malfunction and trip inappropriately. That is what we want to stop. When this circuitry works, and you have an aggressive response for the right reason, we don’t call it snapping. We call it quick thinking or heroism. Only when it is misfiring and that is what you need to control. That is how understanding these LIFEMORTS can help you prevent an aggressive response if you realise, “It is a misfire. I’m angry because this guy cut in line.”

I particularly like the point that we have the ability to intervene and prevent it. One thing that strikes me as peculiar is the fact that it happens non-consciously. All of these nine triggers explain every instance of violence or aggression in our species and other species. I find it strange that the conscious brain catches up only later to understand and explain what happened. It feels like it is not present there and then. How do we get the conscious brain to be present enough to respond when one of the LIFEMORTS triggers is struck?

It is unconscious because 1) The conscious brain is slow, which we talked about. When you learn to play the guitar, and you have to think about where to put your fingers, it is slow. You are using your cerebral cortex in your conscious mind to do that slowly. 2) The conscious brain is limited. We can only hold nine items in working memory. That is pathetic. Your unconscious brain is taking and crunching enormous amounts of data. Your conscious mind could never handle it.

The second point is a lot of aggression is conscious. I’m glad to hear you say that, in your opinion, you haven’t found any instance of violence that couldn’t be understood except for these triggers. That is what I’m finding as well, and it is all-encompassing. What about deliberate rage? What about somebody who decides to put a bomb in this suitcase or rob a store?

This same circuitry is controlled by the cerebral cortex. The cortex can activate the same circuitry. If you are going to carry out this behaviour, which is a violent reaction, complicated biological behaviour, the same circuits have to get activated. We could talk about what they are, but people have a sense of what it feels like to fight. The conscious brain can activate this response. They can deliberate and do it deliberately, but it will still be one of these nine LIFEMORTS triggers.

The reason is this behaviour, aggression fighting, only serves purposes that are life-threatening by our wiring. If you need resources, we are wired to use violence to get them. That explains bank robbery. It will be the same circuitry, but only for these nine reasons instigated deliberately. This is the same thing you see in war because wars involve deliberation. There are a lot of impulsive or rapid aggressive responses, but it is the same thing. We engage in violence because this is a fundamental threat to our existence.

We engage in violence when posed with a fundamental threat to our existence. Share on X

Therein lies an important point when we come to think about war and conflict on a larger scale. It is not necessarily an immediate reaction. Your unbeknownst ninja skills from Barcelona were an immediate reaction. One of the nine triggers, or a bunch of them were triggered at the same time. You reacted completely unconsciously, and your conscious mind caught up later. Whereas when we start talking about war, it is not necessarily an immediate reaction, or even when we talk about the suicide bomber as somebody who is planning an act that is guided and originally triggered by one of the nine LIFEMORTS triggers.

That brings into question our volition in this. The behaviour is a result of cause and effect somewhere in our past that has been triggered. The reason I bring this up is I had an interesting discussion about the argument of free will. You touched on this at one point in your book because it begs the question, where is my volition here? Where is my free will? If I’m being triggered by an evolutionary trigger to protect life or limb from any of the other eight triggers, am I morally liable for snapping as we often do?

We all have this capability for violence. The fact that you can have a draft and take anyone out of society, they will engage in destruction, violence, and death. Part of the military is an example of that. We all have that capability. People are largely unaware of how much processing goes on unconsciously. It is amazing. It is for two reasons. Even in a discussion, we have a nice discussion here. Mainly, it is going on unconsciously. These ideas bubble up into our minds. We may hear us say these thoughts for the first time when we say them. That is because these are complex behaviours. The brain does an enormous amount unconsciously, and we don’t appreciate that enough.

In terms of volition or culpability, there are two aspects here. We are responsible for our actions because our actions have consequences. It helps to understand why we would have a violent reaction, but we are responsible for that behaviour, and you can act on that. Knowing that somebody will rob a bank because that is the R trigger, we can say, “I’m not going to leave my wallet sitting out on the table. I’m going to put my money in a safe, and I’m not going to leave it under my bed.

The same thing applies to every one of these LIFEMORTS triggers. We can take action based on this, but we are responsible for the outcome. That is why it is important to understand what these triggers are because even when it is deliberative, a terrorist, or a deliberate invasion by an army, it is 1 of these 9 situations by which the brain is wired to engage in violence.

What are your thoughts on how social media plays with these triggers? That is one of the important points that are different to our evolutionary past. I like to quote that you use in the book, “We are equipped with stone-age brains with space-age weapons.” In this instance, and we’ll come to actual weapons, some are saying and I have written an article on how social media has written become weaponised effectively. What are your thoughts on how social media interplays with these nine triggers? What can be done about that?

The thing to understand is that the brain we have now is the same brain we had many years ago as a species. It hasn’t changed, but our environment has changed enormously. We don’t live in caves or open plains of Africa. The brain is coping with an environment it was never designed to operate in, like driving 60 miles an hour, a foot off the asphalt inside a machine and many other things.

It was never designed to deal with atomic weapons that could annihilate the mutually assured destruction of everybody on the planet and ruin the whole planet, or firearms. It was never designed to handle the drugs both of abuse and therapeutic kinds of drugs that are used nowadays. It was never designed for this instant communication across the world transportation that brings together clashes among different tribes and cultures.

The brain is never designed for instant communication across the world or transportation that leads to clashes among different tribes and cultures. Share on X

9/11 was a culture clash. If it wasn’t for communication, transportation, and social media, we never would have known that their culture has these different values and practices. You add to that congestion and stress. We can talk about this, but stress is an important factor. I will set that aside for now to continue this line of thought.

Social media is a weapon. If you look at the Boston Bombers and people who become radicalised, this is in the press with respect to Facebook. It is a weapon, but those things that didn’t exist bring us into conflict because they press on these triggers. It is important, if you have a teenager, to understand when you are disrespected on Facebook and you get angry or suicidal, that happens. Tell them, “Don’t get angry when you are disrespected.”

That doesn’t help. You need to say, “You get angry. Here is why. It is the eye trigger. If you have been insulted, you are hardwired to fight, and your survival depends on your rank. You should be angry, but that was designed for the survival of the fittest in the jungle. We don’t live in the jungle. You are going to get into a fight.”

That sounds like too much rationalisation, and it doesn’t work like that. I use the example of if you are bumped in a crowd, you tense up, turn, and get ready to fight. What if the person says, “Excuse me?” Instantly, that tension and the aggression go away because your unconscious brain can only deliver this threat to your conscious brain, and your conscious brain can act on it. If the person says, “Excuse me,” it goes, “That is a misfire.” That is why we need to understand these LIFEMORTS because if you are suddenly angry at something on the road and you find it is one of these misfires, you don’t need to go through a lot of deliberation or calm down and count to ten. You go, “That is a misfire.”

This is one of those books that made sense from the start because you can see these things every day. I can see it when I respond to an email in a way that an email might trigger me. I did this where somebody. In a professional work email, they did something benign. In some way, it insulted my status and rank in that particular organisation completely inadvertently. I happened to be reading the book at the time that this happened, and I recognise it immediately because my response was, “How dare this person undermine me in such a way.” I blame that person.

The first step to controlling anything is to understand it. You understand, “I’m angry because this guy disrespected me, and I got this biological legacy. That is why I’m angry.” That is wonderful.

It made a difference because it allowed me to take a step back and say, “Give the benefit of the doubt. What is the most gracious way you can view this?” I managed to calm down, realising, “Maybe that was not even the intention. I have reacted. Let’s take a pause.” I called this person who I had never met face-to-face but had engaged in emails over a period of time, and we discussed it. It turned out that it wasn’t intended as I initially perceived it. It was completely benign, and the person was unaware of the reaction their words had caused.

It was a useful small-scale case study of how this manifest in the world and our day-to-day engagements. As we discussed or have been discussing, it is the conscious brain that interprets events. Even those interpretations might be misfiring for 1 of these 9 life board triggers, which I find important and relevant to everyday life. This is maybe a pivot to the macro level.

We all know and experienced this. Maybe people won’t admit it, but we all know somebody who has this reaction. It is embarrassing and bewildering. Why smash your tennis racket or a dish? It doesn’t make any sense. It is helpful to understand there is biology here, and that is the reason for it.

I find it liberating because it is much easier to have empathy with myself, but perhaps more importantly, empathy with others.

I did leave out things like alcohol and traumatic brain injury. We all know that if you have impairments, this can lead to aggression. The problem I find is you read about somebody like OJ Simpson. Nobody thought he was a vicious killer the day before the incident. Most of the acts of violence are not by people who are psychopaths. They are so-called normal people. That is what I wanted to understand because it is embarrassing and unpleasant. We put this aside.

This is relevant, and tying into that point at the individual level, you mentioned OJ Simpson, but in the space of war and conflict. I like how you made this point earlier about there being a fine line between being a hero and potentially dying in an act where one of your triggers had been struck. We see this all the time with honours and awards awarded to soldiers for extraordinary bravery. When they are interviewed, they say, “I did what every one of my friends and colleagues would have done. I just reacted.”

They say, “I didn’t think.”

It is quite fascinating, but in this case, where they lived, stormed machine gun nests and managed to save an entire platoon, they get awarded for that act of valour and bravery. There are many who didn’t survive those types of responses and were killed in the process. Most of these people also say, “When I think about it, it was a crazy and stupid thing to do. I got away with it. I was lucky.” That is another important piece of this, and there is also a dark side to it.

That is where atrocities, war crimes, and any of these bad things that we see happen in war. You used the idea that rape and sex are used as a weapon. There is an interesting part of the book. I will invite you to talk about this. What is the interplay here, particularly using sex as a weapon? Why is that an important and relevant piece of neuroscience or the circuitry to understand?

The M trigger violence related to mating is a powerful cause of aggression and violence throughout vertebrates, especially in males and humans. At a neural circuit level, it is surprising. The new research shows there are commonalities. Some of the same circuitry is used. There is a part of the brain called the hypothalamic attack region. If you stimulate that with an electrode, the animal will launch into a vicious attack and kill another animal in his cage instantly. These other circuits feed into this part of the brain to trigger this, but this region is in the deep unconscious part of the brain called the hypothalamus. It is the same part of the brain that controls thirst, eating, and sex.

Research is shown in animals that you can stimulate this part of the brain with the same neurons. If you stimulate them in different patterns, you can switch the animal. These are mice, in this case. They are stimulating them with implanted fibre optic cables and using lasers to stimulate these specific neurons. You could switch the animal from fighting to copulating. We always have this strange intersection throughout history between sex and violence.

When you think about it, they both have some commonalities, even though they are opposites, love and hate. Intense arousal, a sense of reward, some of the same circuits, and some of the same neural hormones are activated in both situations. I didn’t mention this, but you are not going to engage in violence without having this huge sense of reward that circuitry is well understood. We have that same part of the brain activated in sex, for example.

In addition to the nine triggers, the important point to realise is stress can change the threshold at which these are pulled. People, at the end of the book, will find out that my daughter and I were under extreme stress. Otherwise, people think I’m a crazy person. I was under stress. If you are under stress, you go on high alert. If you are in danger, what are you going to do? You are going to be more likely to respond rapidly. That is going to have more misfires.

That is another factor, but the most important factor in aggression is sex or gender. Males of many species, certainly humans, are much more aggressive. Ninety-four percent of the prison population in the United States is male, violent prisoners. It turns out that when you talk about war, the Carnegie Foundation gives awards for heroism, and 95% of those people getting awards in many for valour, in many cases, coming to the aid of a stranger they didn’t even know, ageing violently, are male. A quarter of those who got those awards died and gave their life to protect somebody, come to their aid, or rescue them. This is why we have this circuitry, and it misfires sometimes in these two situations. Back to the point, gender and mating involve some of the same circuitry.

The most important factor in aggression is sex and gender. Share on X

That is the reason why we, overwhelmingly throughout history, still have a majority of those going to combat, whether in uniform or not, also males. There is a link there, I suspect.

This was an interesting part, and the most disturbing part of my book for me doing research was violence against women because this is a huge problem. Twenty-four percent of American women have been sexually assaulted. This is a real biological problem. We need to understand and teach the LIFEMORTS to boys.

The thing is that males and females, talking about gender in combat, women are no less brave than men, no less motivated. It is that men outweigh them by 50 pounds, and they are 6 inches taller. It makes no sense to get into a physical battle with somebody who outweighs you. Two guys are not going to get into a physical battle if you are outweighed, and you can avoid it. It makes no sense for women to engage violently in response to these kinds of threats from males. That is why women have a different response. They will have no indirect aggression, gossiping, and poisoning because it doesn’t make any sense to fight.

Women are no less brave or motivated than men. The men only outweigh women by around 50 pounds and are six inches taller. Share on X

If somebody comes into the house in the middle of the night, the guy is the one expected to go there, because he is bigger and stronger. However, we don’t fight with swords anymore. Our technology has advanced to make males and females equal. It doesn’t matter if you have an X or Y chromosome, you are flying a fighter jet, and you got your hand on the missile launcher. This could change as our technology changes. Historically, that is the reason it has been mostly males. Most males are still in the police. That is all changing. Simple biology explains this. It is not anything else. It is not the women or any different.

In that case, is it fair to say that the way these nine triggers are triggered is the same across genders? It is how the manifestation of that triggering occurs through behaviour is different.

Yes, but there is another aspect. Males and females face different types of threats. You and I, as males, go out at night in the city and walk down a dark street. I don’t think about being sexually assaulted, but a woman cannot think about that. The male and female brains have adapted differently to confront these specific threats. I saw that in Barcelona with my daughter.

One thing that EEG analysis and brain imaging have shown is that in the case of a sudden threat, males use the right hemisphere of the brain, and females use the left. We don’t know why, but that is what happened. I didn’t tell people, but after my fight with this pickpocket, I got my wallet back, but it turned out to be a whole gang. They chased my daughter through Barcelona for the next hour. We were fighting for our lives. We would run in the front of restaurants and out the back, trying to allude to these people.

What I noticed is that my daughter would always recognise the bad guys in the crowd before I did. It got to the point where I relied on that. We were running through Barcelona and trying to escape from this gang. I’m thinking of big plans and making big schemes. How am I going to deal with this? What are we going to do? Kelly is down in the weeds, seeing the bad guys, picking them out of the crowd as they are coming. She always saw them first. We are working together. It was a great team, and we did outwit them in the end.

We don’t know why this happens, and the researcher who has done this work suggests that one of the most important decisions any animal makes is mating. In the mating game, the guys audition, and the females make the choices. The females throughout the animal world and also in humans do this based on real subtle cues. How well the bird does the bird dance? Little minute difference. Whereas the guy is thinking, “It is a female.” Not thinking of detailed figures, but our species depends on women making the right decisions. That is a stressful situation but that is a fact. The male and female threat detection mechanisms and aggression are different because there are differences between males and females.

I can again think of examples both from my mom and partner, where they felt something off about a person, and they were spot on, whereas I would have said, “What do you mean? No, it is not.” This is probably my own bias, and it is the research of one. It certainly resonates with me how that might be the case in our lives, and your daughter was particularly good at spotting the bad guys as opposed to you looking for the ways out or potentially to fight.

There is one other thing I realised that we haven’t touched on it before we go to the war side of things. That is the idea of the lizard brain, which is popular in our social discourse. We hear it thrown around quite a lot. You debunk that idea quite neatly in your book. I don’t want to miss out on stamping that idea out if we can. What is wrong with this idea of the lizard brain that we have an older part of the brain that is developed, and it takes over? It is about bringing the newer brain into being. What is it about that metaphor?

That is an old theory that developed in psychology at a time before we had a detailed understanding of neuroscience. It caught on. The media latched onto it. It is the idea that we have this primitive part of the brain that has beastly impulses and is in conflict with the higher-level reasoning that only humans have a cerebral cortex. This is what leads to these terrible, violent, and beastly behaviours.

VOW 37 | Neural Wiring
Neural Wiring: The idea of having a primitive part of the brain with beastly impulses that conflicts with our higher level of reasoning is just not true.

 

The neuroanatomy is all wrong and oversimplified. It is not true. You start to think about making a threat detection mechanism that can identify a threat in a fluid environment situation and complex situation and put you on a definitive course of action in an instant to do the right thing that is complicated. The threat detection mechanism spans the whole brain. Much of your brain is devoted to threat detection. You can see this in animals because it is the survival of the fittest world that developed the human brain.

The anatomy is all wrong. I don’t think neuroscientists ever put much stock in it. It is also not helpful. What do you do with that? I have these beastly urges, and I can’t control them. They are in conflict with my better side. It leads nowhere. We have this detailed understanding of the intricacies and circuitry involved, how different triggers can activate different aggressive responses, and how we can use that information to control them. The lizard brain is an appealing popular notion, but it never had much scientific validity.

That is the reason why I wanted to get rid of it. I did use to refer to the lizard brain in some of my discussions. It seems like a neat way to explain things far more complex than they initially appear. That is why the LIFEMORTS mnemonic is useful because it gives you a list of things where you can start narrowing in as to which circuits are being triggered.

Maybe we can now pivot to the collective. I have asked you a bunch of questions in between, but there are many different interesting aspects of this. If we can apply LIFEMORTS to the collective societal level and we analyse how we went to war in certain instances, we can see how some of these or multiple of these triggers were struck. Is that accurate?

Yes, I hope to use these for peace-building to avoid war.

One example that keeps striking me is the idea of the I or the Insult. It seems to be prevalent in our geopolitical conflicts, debates, or discussions where we don’t necessarily understand how we, whoever we might be, might have insulted another nation.

It is a world of great inequality. You can inadvertently insult people. You don’t even intentionally do it. You can feel inferior. It is made to be inferior. That is going to lead to a revolution or war. I will give a specific example. My skin started to crawl when our President started referring to the North Korean President as a little rocket man. What is that going to do in terms of biology?

Somehow, somebody persuaded him to change course when he embraced the president and went over. Some would argue that he went far that way. It diffused, to a certain extent, the hostility, whereas calling a leader of another country names, Little Rocket Man, is not going to help. It is going to worsen things. Insult is one of the triggers.

In general, it is important to understand. Why does this biology apply to group violence? It is because the leaders that provoke or lead groups into violence, their anger and aggression are triggered by the circuits in their brains. That will let us understand the instigator, number one. Number two, if you can understand the LIFEMORTS, you can protect yourself against being manipulated. The United States went to war with Vietnam. The Vietnam War was unpopular. It tore the United States apart. We lost 58,000 service members, 150,000 were injured, and 125,000 went to Canada and left the country.

That is because of two things. They didn’t feel that any of the LIFEMORTS triggers were engaged. In order to engage in violence, and this is the third thing, the people you are asking or coercing into violence will not engage in violence unless one of these triggers is pulled. The bombing of Pearl Harbor is an L trigger. When the World Trade Center were attacked, that was a defensive response. People had an immediate visceral response to fight back.

In order to get Americans into the war in Vietnam, they tried to push the L trigger. There are survivors depending on it, but it turned out to be a false pretext. We went to that war. The Congress declared war based on an attack supposedly by the North Vietnamese on an American naval ship, the Turner Joy. Years later, they found out that was all false. There was no attack.

A more recent example is Colin Powell going to Iraq. He is trying to get the country United States behind engaging in a war. It was the L trigger. That is the main reason. There were weapons of mass destruction that directly threatened the United States. If that is the case, that will press that L trigger, and people will engage in that fight. We later learned Colin Powell admitted that information was wrong. Those are all the reasons that these LIFEMORTS are involved in group situations and why we need to be aware of them.

They did not occur in isolation. You can have multiple triggers coexisting to add fuel to that fire.

Often, these come together. The other Stop trigger. We talked about embargoes, but that comes together with the I trigger or the Insult. When you have a situation where there is more than one of these triggers pressed, and you will find them in everyday life, that increases the likelihood of there being a violent response.

The example that comes to mind at the moment is the rising tensions with particularly US and China, but more between the West and China. One of the things that we are not listening to is China keeps referring to the century of humiliation, which is the Insult trigger laid out in public on display. We keep talking about China going against the established world order, which from our “Western” side, is the O trigger being hit. You mentioned sanctions. It is amazing when you peel it back, how simple it can be or can seem.

In Taiwan territory, we are being robbed in that territory. This is how the neuroscience perspective helps. Both sides in war feel righteous and justified because it is the same neurocircuitry on both sides. They are defending themselves against one or more of these threats. They are justified to use violence or not. They will use violence because of these threats. Those same triggers are what give the other side the justification and righteous feeling that we can engage in violence and destroy these people for the same reason. The service member is protecting their tribe and country. You have terrorists who feel that they are protecting their way of life.

In wartime, both sides feel righteous and justified. They have the same neuro circuity focused on defending themselves against threats through the use of violence. Share on X

It puts one man is a terrorist, and another man is a freedom fighter saying into context. It gives it biological validation that it is true. That is how people perceive it.

The only way to get around it is to recognise these triggers. First of all, understand what is instigating this aggression tendency and anger for aggression at a neuroscience level. Deal with that. Don’t say, “Why are these guys angry? They are wrong.” Understand the other side’s point of view from a biological perspective, try to address that, and diffuse that trigger. You may be able to do that by some other diplomatic means.

You can often use one trigger against another trigger. For example, the T trigger ended up in one of the elements of this capitol riots, but other people who may even have been sympathetic to one side suddenly were united by the O trigger and T trigger. They were like, “This is not how you have an organised society. We have procedures and rules that violate it.” They would also say, “We have our differences, but we are all Americans.” That is what finally happens in wars. Look at our archenemies, the Germans and the Japanese. History is repeating this over and over. The Russians flipped from being our enemies to our allies, and what changed? It is our perception of us versus them.

It was moved from internal to external. There is robust research that there is a correlation between war and domestic strife. The way leaders will unite their internal tribes into one tribe is to project an external enemy, and therefore trigger much higher levels of the LIFEMORTS against an external enemy to therefore unite the tribes within their boundaries.

Stress figures into that. A society that is suffering and under stress is more likely to result in violence. What is the solution to that? That is what foreign aid is all about. A big part of foreign aid is to try to relieve those stresses in part because if you don’t, it is going to boil over into violence.

You have mentioned stress a few times. Maybe it is a neat time to delve into that a little bit more. Why is stress important for us to understand? Neurologically, what do we understand stress to be?

We all know what stress feels like but it is your unconscious brain taking in situational information about your internal and external state and coming to the conclusion that you are in danger. When you are in danger, you put your threat detection mechanism on high alert. That is self-protective. This is what protects a service member over there walking around in the streets while there are IEDs everywhere.

VOW 37 | Neural Wiring
Neural Wiring: Stress is your unconscious brain taking in situational information about your internal and external state coming to the conclusion that you are in danger.

 

This is also what protects each of us. When we are under threat, the threshold on these LIFEMORTS triggers being pulled lowers to protect ourselves against that. That also means you are going to have misfires. If you put the nation’s Civil Defence on high alert, it is more likely you are going to have a misfire. The reason stress makes sense in that context is the right thing to do when you are under threat is to lower the threshold on your threat detection mechanism.

A good example of that was the terrible situation of evacuation from Afghanistan after the terrorist bombing of the United States. A drone mistakenly bombed an innocent man and his children in a car, mistaking that person as a terrorist. We were under tremendous stress. We had a clock ticking. We had this horrific bombing. This biology put us on a hair trigger. We made a mistake. If we hadn’t been under stress, a little more time would have passed, and we might have found out that was no need for a violent response.

The other was when we killed Soleimani, and the Iranians shot all of those missiles back at the Americans. Interestingly, we didn’t fight because we felt that it was justified at a biological level that we did this to them. They did this. We understand back. What also happened is they shot down a commercial airliner from Ukraine. That is because they were under such stress and thought it was the Americans because we had told them we were going to attack and obliterate them in ways they had never seen. They mistook an aeroplane going the wrong direction as an incoming missile.

It is important to understand that because we can’t always control our stresses. You can’t control some things like your health, death in the family, or job problems. It is better to recognise, “While I am under stress, therefore I am more likely to have a snap response,” and be especially careful in our guard to avoid that. You are walking around with a handgun with the safety off in that situation. You need to be careful.

That is why the rhetoric of our leaders is important because it can trigger responses that are misfiring and, therefore, accidental downing of civilian aircraft. If it is denied, that will trigger a different insult in those who are convinced that it was a civilian aircraft brought down by your weapon systems that will trigger an insult in them. In the action reaction, the more tension is built into that system, the more likely it is going to snap. Collectively, as a society, there will be a war. That is what we can see in history. It is the buildup of stress and sufficient triggers being struck in one way or another, and we are at war.

That is what this diplomacy is all about. That is why all countries have it and why it is important. We have to avoid that problem because violence and war are always regrettable. Sometimes there is no other choice. Populations can be manipulated. Gangs, religious strife, and groups of people can be pitched against one another by leaders pressing on these triggers to engage in violence.

Populations can be manipulated. Groups of people can be pitched against one another by leaders pressing on the triggers to engage in violence. Share on X

One of the final few questions is, how can LIFEMORTS inform the life of peacemakers and peacebuilders who go into development environments to help develop other nations or even soldiers who go and keep the peace? They are in an uncertain, unfamiliar environment where stress and anxiety will be elevated anyway. Therefore, that increases the chance of one of these life wants to be triggered. What advice do you give these people on the ground in these environments?

Understanding biology and LIFEMORTS is helpful to allow us to recognise the roots of aggression. This situation, whether you realise it or not, is pressing on a biological mechanism with no other purpose than to elicit deadly violence. We need to be careful. We are talking about territory borders between countries, insults, and embargoes. You can’t engage in those lightly or be dismissive about any of these situations around the world that will be pressing on these triggers. That can help avoid it.

Secondly, understanding stress is important because that is going to result in mistakes. To go through a war and have the leaders later say, “It was a mistake,” is obscene. We can’t have that. We can’t have a war that is a mistake. In mediating these conflicts when they arise, as we touched on before, if you understand where the roots of regression are, you can use one LIFEMORTS trigger against the other. You can find alternative means to deal diplomatically with what is causing this threat.

A good one is with China, I would assume making realise, “We are all part of this economic tribe. We are interdependent.” It could be something like that. I’m pulling that example out of the air. It is important to avoid manipulation. In terms of servicemen, it is important to understand because here they are, boots on the ground, on the cutting edge. They are driven there and put their life on the line.

A lot of this biology is important. I talked to a lot of SEAL Team 6 members. You talked about your gut feelings. This is the unconscious brain threat detection mechanism. They use this. These SEALs told me, “We go into some building, and it doesn’t seem right. We may not know why we have this feeling, but we respect it and back off.” As mountain climbers, we have that same feeling. We respect. We don’t feel like, “You are crazy”. What it always turns out is there was a threat that you did not consciously recognise. You back off of it and find out.

The Navy and the military train, certainly, in sports. We are talking about service members training both the conscious and the unconscious threat detection. They have specific exercises. You need them both. You need to control this aggressive response. I told this Navy SEAL about my situation in Barcelona fighting with this robber.

He says, “I never would have done that.” Here is a guy who could take you out with a spoon while he is texting, and he wouldn’t do it. It is because he learned what I had to learn that you are not aware of the whole situation. “It wasn’t worth it. You better be sure before you engage in this.” They go through deliberate exercises to engage in a deliberative process on violence, as he told me.

You don’t want a Marine or Iron Man suddenly berserk and start shooting everybody when there is a threat. They need to, in that instant, assess the threat, prioritise the threats, and decide how to deal with it and take it out. It was interesting for him to explain how the Navy trains them to do that. It is a combination of both things. It is all based on neuroscience.

VOW 37 | Neural Wiring
Neural Wiring: You don’t want a soldier to suddenly go berserk and start shooting everybody when there is a threat. They need to prioritize the threats and decide how to deal with it or take it out.

 

The important point here for me to take away is the importance of training. We can train these intuitive or gut-feel responses to force us to pause and take stock. From a military perspective, be aware as individual soldiers that we can train these systems, but these systems are also vulnerable to things like stress. This is in a deployed environment where sleep is a commodity.

The importance of sleeping, eating well, and exercising will reduce the buildup of tension that would allow our program to train nuanced gut-feel responses to work as well as they should, as opposed to misfire. Importantly, we are all susceptible to this, regardless of the training, if the conditions are such that there is enough stress in the system.

I was interested in talking about control in people who are strictly nonviolent. How is that possible? There are people. This religious group, the Jains, believe in reincarnation. They won’t kill any living creature. They sweep the path in front of them so they don’t step on ants. They won’t eat root crops because that kills the plant.

I went to their temples. I interviewed them and went to one of their services. They are wonderful and lovely people. They are strictly nonviolent. The way they do that is they structure their society to eliminate these LIFEMORTS. They give up money. They don’t have these triggers. What we have is the control of the circuitry by the prefrontal cortex. They train their whole life.

Part of it is genetics, but it is partially environmental. They grew up seeing their family react to situations nonviolently, and that wires the brain up that way, but there is a consequence. They will not engage in violence for any reason. If someone invaded their house and attacked their children or spouse, they would not engage in violence. I understand that it is because of their deep religion and feeling that life on earth is transient. The goal is to get to nirvana and separate yourself from earthly concerns. I understand and respect it. I had a hard time with that.

When I was listening to them in the service, there was an instance where from the Middle East, there was a soldier put in a cage and burned alive. There were pictures on that TV. It was disgusting and horrifying. The speaker used that as an example and said, “You can’t judge that. You can’t say that is good or bad. That is that person’s karma.”

I would have a hard time with that. I can’t imagine accepting that brutality. The point here is you can control it, but you are going to give up a lot. The other thing I wondered is if this violence is necessary as it is, and we see it in the animal world and human world, how do you have people who are nonviolent persist? The amazing thing is the Jain religion is the oldest religion in existence.

It is impressive because it strikes me as though they are deeply conscious of the action-reaction component of this. The way to cut the circuit is to not react, which comes with this whole idea of forgiveness and potentially mediation or truth reconciliations. It is a recognition because we are programmed to react. It is difficult domestically and politically for the tribe to reject a violent response. What they figured out is that it is the only way ultimately to stop this from occurring again. You accept what has happened. That’s their karma, and you move on. Is that maybe what it is?

I talked to him about it, and that is right. It is not easy. They are fighting their biology. They work on it every day their whole life, consciously and deliberately suppressing this and structuring their world so they can avoid these triggers. It is a conscious effort that shows you the extent to which it can be controlled.

It also brings about the two factors that control the circuitry. We are talking about circuitry like any other circuit in the brain. It is controlled by two things, genes and the environment. Your brain wires up after you are born. The human brain is not fully developed until about your early twenties. The human brain cheats evolution by wiring up after birth because the environment and our experiences control how the brain wires up. In that way, we can cheat evolution because your brain becomes ideally suited to the environment you are raised in for success to reproductive age. We don’t live in caves anymore.

There is a genetic component and an environmental component. This is a secluded society. There is a genetic component, I would suspect, but the environment is important. It also makes sense. If you are raised in a hostile inner-city area, you are going to develop a hair trigger because if you don’t, you are going to be victimised.

That is the way to success. Service members have to do that. They are an immortal threat. When you come back into another environment, or you take an inner-city person to another environment where that is not appropriate anymore, it becomes a liability. Genes in the environment determine the circuitry, and the prefrontal cortex controlling the threat detection mechanism allows us to control this response.

This strikes me as a wonderful merger of social science and Kurt Lewin’s formula. That behaviour is a function of the environment and personality. In this case, personality is heavily shaped by genes. It is a wonderful merger with now neuroscience of a different field.

War, aggression, and violence are many perspectives. Psychology, economics, and politics give us insight and are all valuable. This is not the means to the end of all, but the neuroscience of the roots of aggression gives us a new perspective that can be helpful together with others.

You have triggered another question in my mind. You made the point that when you are grown up and nurtured in a particular environment, that wires your brain one way. You are taking a soldier grown up in a country like Australia that is wealthy and peaceful by and large. They are taken into extremely violent environments. That has an effect naturally. This is what we can contribute to at least an extent to what is then known as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Is that accurate? Does this have a role with PTSD?

Yes, two ways. It is a mismatch between the environment and the brain wiring. You need that aggressive or rapid response in a hostile threatening environment in the Middle East wars, for example. That becomes inappropriate when this person comes back home because they are all wired to snap. Secondly, that can lead to PTSD. We understand that concussion, traumatic brain injury, or psychological trauma rewires the brain, and it can be persistent.

Back to what started me, as this professor engaging in a street fight with this thug, which is crazy finding out, but that was not our first encounter with a robbery. If you read at the end of the book, you find out that my daughter and I were robbed in Paris before going to Barcelona. I don’t know why the robbers are picking on me.

Maybe I was looking vulnerable, or it was with my daughter, but in any case, that was the second robbery. You lose your wallet in Europe. You don’t have any money or ID. You can’t get on an aeroplane, find food, or get into a hotel. You are in a big mess. The F trigger for Family was there because I’m protecting my daughter. She is dependent on me. That is what happened.

After that first robbery, I was under stress. I was oblivious. I didn’t react this way to the first pickpocket. Fortunately, I reached my brother. He wired us some money. That is how we were able to continue our trip to Barcelona. That is what got robbed of this valuable money that my brother had wired us. What happened? My amygdala had learned. It wasn’t going to happen again. It wasn’t going to ask my cerebral cortex. That is the same thing. Your brain will adapt to the environment you are in, and it is not conscious, but you need to be aware of it.

That is a wonderful note to also bring this to an end, the awareness piece. You have given us a handy tool and one that certainly is now in my back pocket and one I will be sharing with the people I come across, particularly in the military. It is important on an individual level but also on a societal level that we understand and come back to this point to have empathy with ourselves and others that this is nature.

This is not unusual and unexpected. It is normal. If we can normalise these triggers and responses, we can also start talking about them more freely and openly with the view that we can negotiate our way and mediate our way out of much bigger problems and strike these triggers at a much higher level or societal level.

Understanding is the key. Tell somebody to put a lid on it, don’t get angry, or calm down if you are in an argument, what happens? This works. It is better to understand what is going on. I speak to members of the military and those with PTSD. They find it helpful. They want to know why they are angry.

Doug, it has been an enlightening conversation. I am thrilled to have come across your book. Thank you so much for writing it, because it is an important topic. I look forward to reading some of your other work because it strikes me. You have a particular ability to synthesise complex or seemingly complex to ask me mortal’s topics into understandable and useful mnemonics. Thank you so much for your time. I appreciate it.

Thank you so much for the opportunity to be on the show. It was a pleasure talking with you because you did the research and read the book. You were prepared. It shows, and I appreciate that. Thank you for a great discussion.

 

Important Links