Leadership and the Brain

When I first started my career I worked for a management consultancy so didn’t experience the over bearing bosses close up, but a close friend of mine went to work for BHS. Fresh in and excited it was then that she came across Philip Green who she was utterly terrified of. He would swoop into meetings and demand to know the detail from this young and very junior graduate.

Philip Green is a leader who, whatever you may think of him, has been very successful. One that Stuart Rose ex-chairman and CEO of M&S describes as “a classic bricks-and-mortar retailer”. He’s also someone who has proffered a command and control style of management. His leadership is what is known as ‘great man’ or trait leadership – based on the idea that successful leaders have innate, fixed leadership capabilities which fulfil certain characteristics including the ability to use power and influence to lead.  Everyone who’s been close up and personal with Green talks about his gift for mental arithmetic, instant assessment of value, fast decision making and simplification of complex business dilemmas.  Green himself indirectly alludes to his style being of a less moveable stance saying “If I had wheels, I’d be a car. If: it’s a big word, isn’t it? I can’t deal in if.”

But this fixed style of leadership isn’t relevant or helpful today as we exist on a constant wobble board of change. We operate in a world of economic volatility, rapid advances in technology, intensifying competition and an unpredictable political landscape which all call for clarity of thought and speed of action. A world which deals very much in ‘Ifs’. For example, the founder and CEO of Amazon Jeff Bezos says that “This is Day 1 for the Internet. We still have so much to learn.” In interviews Bezos still talks about the Internet as an ­uncharted world, imperfectly understood and yielding new surprises all the time, demonstrating the need to continually evolve and adapt. Amazon develops something new every 11.6 seconds. This simply could not be done through a command and control structure – a boss having to say yes to everything.

As leaders there is a need to constantly adapt and change, but also to understand how to make employees feel secure to get the most from them and bring them along on the journey. And understanding the brain both from the perspective of your own brain and the brains of your employees is a very helpful foundation for the style of leadership needed today.

Let me give you an example of how these two different leadership styles impact employees brains by looking at it through the lens of neuroscience. In 2012, Boyatzis a renowned Professor of Organizational Behavior, Psychology, and Cognitive Science examined the neural substrates activated in experiences with leaders who were good at relating to followers (e.g. Jeff Bezos) and those who were not (e.g. Phillip Green). Subjects responded to the leaders who were good at relating to others by showing activation in 14 regions of the brain, specifically areas associated with attention and relationships.

Subjects responded to leaders who were not good at relating to others with activation in only 6 areas of the brain and deactivation in 11 areas, specifically narrowing attention and initiating negative emotions. The primitive areas of the brain experienced this leader as a threat and the brain responded accordingly. Ready to take flight but not ready to adapt and respond.

This has significant and damaging consequences. Negative emotions lead to cognitive, emotional and perceptual impairment, which in turn limits an employee’s ability to make accurate rational decisions and causes them to have an inaccurate and overly negative view of their environment and those around them. While this may have been sustainable within a command and control structure, the vulnerabilities this style creates in employees become completely disabling in a constantly changing world.

For more on this, your brain as a leader and the brain of your employers log on free to the webinar I’m doing this week with The School for CEOs.

Image: Pexels.com

The Myth of Sanity

Sanity is a myth, none of us are sane, yet insanity feels scary, foreign and a million miles from the life that most of us lead. Insanity conjures up images of mental asylums, white coats, sedated patients, a ‘one flew over the cuckoo’s nest’ hive of panic-stricken individuals. Our 19th and 20th century foray into locking up the clinically ill has only served to heighten a perception of mental illness as being a million miles away from normal. A black and white divide between those who are sane and those who are not. As a result, we’ve come to fear any sign that we may be less than 100% normal, deeply burying signs of ‘weakness’ and fearing the stigma of what it means to be mentally ill.

Why sanity is a myth!

In reality there is no divide between being OK and being insane, we all suffer from symptoms of one kind or another. It’s only when the volume gets turned up to a deafening or debilitating pitch that it gets labelled, but it’s always there. If any one of us were to pick up the DSMV (The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) which lists out psychiatric conditions, we could pick out symptoms that we recognise in ourselves.  Just take a look at the list below which relates to GAD (Generalized Anxiety Disorder):

  1. Too much anxiety or worry over more than six months. This is present most of the time in regards to many activities.
  2. Inability to manage these symptoms
  3. At least three of the following occur:
    Note: Only one item is required in children.

    1. Restlessness
    2. Tires easily
    3. Problems concentrating
    4. Irritability
    5. Muscle tension.
    6. Problems with sleep
  4. Symptoms result in problems with functioning.
  5. Symptoms are not due to medications, drugs, other physical health problems
  6. Symptoms do not fit better with another psychiatric problem such as panic disorder

It’s the frequency and intensity (in italics) which tip these symptoms from everyday annoyances toward mental illness i.e. impaired cognition (thinking), emotions or behaviour. It’s easy to see how the tipping point is similar to physical illness. We don’t go to the doctor until the pain in our side has been there for 3 months, or the headaches have become so severe that we can’t go to work.

So what is mental health?

Earlier this year I spoke to Lord Stevenson about raising awareness of what’s normal and what’s not when it comes to mental health. Stevenson and Farmer put together an independent review of mental health in the workplace for the Prime Minister and they open their review by saying:

By mental health we do not mean “mental ill health”. We mean the mental health we all have, just as we all have physical health. The World Health Organisation defines good mental health as “A state of wellbeing in which every individual realises his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully and is able to make a contribution to her or his community.”

With that in mind I put together the diagram below to show the parallels between physical health and mental health and the comparative places in which we seek help. As always I emphasize the fact that a better understanding of psychology could help everyone at every stage of this continuum.


Realising Our Own Potential

Bringing this into the world I work the focus lies on the peak performance end of the continuum. A large part of my job is to help exceptional people remain in or reach their place of peak performance – to keep them at their absolute optimum. They need to be there so that they can realise their own potential, cope with the stresses of life but in most cases make a significant ‘contribution to his or her community’. These people have a responsibility not just to themselves but to those who they lead or influence, it’s critical that they understand their tipping points and avoid falling off the edge.

In my book I refer to stress and peak performance within the context of the Human Function Curve developed by Cardiologist Peter Nixon. This model is useful because while developed in the context of physiological stress and performance it also readily applies to mental stress and performance bringing together the similarities between physical and mental health.

The model helpfully points out that stress on either the body or the mind isn’t always detrimental—we need a certain amount in order to perform at our optimum which is just as well because and in reality we cannot escape stress. Both stress on our body and our mind are part of the equilibrium that is life. The curve illustrates that there is a need for a balance of good and bad stress, with optimal stress and performance at the midpoint.


Taken from Defining You

If you think of this in the context of an athlete training – they need to keep stretching their body out of their comfort zone in order to improve, but then allow time to rest in order to train again. That stress will cause physical discomfort when the athlete is training but also allow them to improve their performance. However too much time training without a rest will result in injury.

When it comes to our minds, at a low level of stress, we may feel bored or disinterested, finding it hard to get ourselves going.  As stress increases, so does our physiological and psychological arousal until it reaches an optimal level, enabling improved performance: for example, performing better in a presentation or exam, finding it easier to concentrate and get things done, or being more able to think on our feet. In the same way that the stress causes a degree of physical discomfort for the athlete training, the mental annoyances that personally bother us are turned up in volume as we move along the spectrum. I for example get really anxious in the run up to giving a big talk and as a result experience more of the items in list C above e.g. restlessness, irritability, muscle tension and problems with sleeping. They aren’t however sustained, once I’ve done the talk they subside. Too much stress, too many talks in one week or one month could however be crippling. In the same way as too much stress on an athletes body can cause a muscle or tendon to tear, too much stress on our mind can cause us to tip over the edge with a need to take time to recover. At this point our performance follows a downward trajectory, leading to negative emotions and overall cognitive decline, risking mental ill health.

The Cyclical Nature of Mental Health

Over the years working with high performers, I have become acutely aware of the fine line between brilliance and denial, or talent and collapse. Individuals who are at the top of their game are vulnerable and can quickly face mental deterioration. This is not helped by the picture that has been painted of insanity. The most successful high achievers see nothing of themselves in people who fit this description, in fact they often fear this more than most – mental illness has also been branded as failure and failure is a long way from what they identify themselves with. Yet we only have to look at the list of those who have fallen prey to mental illness to see how close these two ends of the spectrum lie. From the brilliantly funny and talented Robin Williams who took his own life to Kurt Cobain, Ernest Hemmingway, Vincent Van Gogh and Virginia Woolf are just a few. In reality, peak performance is often knocking on the door of mental illness.

In this sense I see mental health as existing in a cyclical nature rather than on a continuum. We need to inhabit the right hand side of the cycle, moving back and forward from comfort zone, stretch zone and peak performance as we listen to our body and our mind, responding to the need to rest and refuel. Without this continual fine tune and awareness peak performance or even being stretched leads to the normal stresses of life becoming too much and tipping us over into mental illness. At this point it’s not so easy to pick up where we left off – we have to recover before we can perform at our peak again or even exist in our comfort zone. In the worst case, for those like Cobain and Williams, that recovery never happens.

The Cycle of Mental Health


We all face immense pressures which we cannot just get rid of, but we can be more aware of both in ourselves and others. We don’t generally swing from OK to mentally ill. There aren’t just two ends of a spectrum – we all pass back and forward through the cycle. If we compare it to physical health, we are not in hospital or running a marathon, there are a whole host of physical states in between. With the brain, which is the most complex organ of the body, those states cover even more shades of grey.

I’m passionate about being a voice and joining other voices to move our societal understanding of mental health toward the richness and complexity that inhabits life. To help society understand that there is no sane or insane, rather a constantly changing state of mental states, influenced by a complex set of external and internal factors. At a personal level, we not only need to understand this but learn to understand our own mental tendencies and weak spots, how to refuel, how and when to ask for help. We need to improve everyone’s understanding of behaviour so that we can not only destigmatize mental illness but so that we can optimise mental health and realise human potential across the human race.

The Myth of Sanity – was a title borrowed from the brilliant US Clinical Psychologist Dr. Martha Stout the book is below.

For more from me –

Defining You: Discover telling insights into your behaviour, motives and results to unlock your full potential by Fiona Murden – available at amazon.co.uk, Waterstones, WHSmiths and Foyles in the UK.

From July 24th 2018 Defining You will also be available across the English speaking world e.g. amazon.com, amazon.au, amazon.ca

Defining You gives access to an online psychometric test providing a full personalised professional report.

Subscribe to our mailing list to get more news, tips and tools from Fiona

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Links and references:

American Psychiatric Association (2013). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (Fifth ed.). Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing

Murden, F (2018) Defining You: How to Profile Yourself to Unlock Your Full Potential

Stevenson, D and Famer, P (2017) Thriving at Work: The Stevenson / Farmer Review of mental health and employers

Stout, M (2002) The Myth of Sanity: Tales of Multiple Personality in Everyday Life

Image: Pexels.com

Is it right under your nose?

What I’ve seen in my many years working with ‘successful’ people from different walks of life is that we often don’t notice what we’re good at. That sounds odd right? But when we’re good at something it just feels like something we do and because it comes easily we forget that it’s not something that everyone can do. As a result, we don’t make the most of these strengths or leverage our full capability.

Aside from the arrogant or narcissistic few who flaunt and overblow their capabilities, most people underplay or fob off their strengths. When they get a report output from a profile (which details various areas of personality, strengths and areas for development), they dive straight into what they are not doing well and dismiss the things that they are good at. While looking at how they can grow is helpful, like most things in life balance works best and only focusing on areas for development doesn’t allow us to reach our full potential.

One lady I coached, a senior executive in a FTSE 100, completely overlooked her capability to skilfully read her environment and navigate politics. Her core strengths was her ability to resolve issues between members of the board, to get people talking to one another about problems, to find her way around blockers in order to deliver her own agenda and enable others to fulfil theirs. Her response to this observation was “That’s just what I do, I’ve always done that, there’s nothing special about it”. But having seen hundreds of leaders up close and personal, I know that this is something a large number  desperately strive to achieve what she was ‘just doing’. Take for example the exceptionally bright high potential guy who has an IQ that’s through the roof but struggles with anything that involves EQ. Or the older executive who has always delivered through telling others and following the rules who now struggles to adapt to the ever-changing demands of todays’ fast paced environment.

The point is, we all have strengths that we take for granted that we are unaware of because they come so naturally. While the humility that accompanies this is appealing, without awareness of our strengths we can’t fully leverage them so we are doing ourselves and others a disservice. For example, I always loved psychology and studied it at University. I also had an interest in business so I did a business masters. The mistake I then made was to do what I thought was the ‘best thing to do’ – joining a business consultancy as a graduate. But this didn’t make use of my natural strengths and interests. As I gradually become more miserable and found myself chasing any elements of projects which lent themselves to the business psychologists view of the world I went back to University so that I could become a Chartered Psychologist. I love what I do and although I have self-doubts like anyone, if I hadn’t pursued this career I wouldn’t have been able to help all the people that I have (I know this as I’ve been lucky enough to have had feedback), I wouldn’t have written a book that I hope to help even more people with and I wouldn’t have been able to inadvertently influenced many people who work for the leaders I work with. I would have just been a reasonable management consultant, not an exceptional one, and not fully making use of being able to read and empathise with others. I don’t hold myself up as a gleaming example, I’m still trying to find exactly what it is I’m good at. For example, although public speaking about topics that I’m passionate about gives a far better output than when I try and fit purely with a clients needs, I still tend to focus on the latter.

Although I advocate finding strengths and using them, I don’t  believe we fulfil our potential by ignoring our weaknesses. It’s important to know what we’re not so good at, not so that we then throw ourselves into a role that forces us to get better, but so we can remain aware of the things that may trip us up or have a negative impact on others and do our best to mitigate them. So, we can find people to help fill in the gaps on areas we’re not so good at. Also, so we can seek to refine those areas that are most relevant to what we’re doing.


  • What are your strengths – the things that you’ve always just be able to do naturally? If you’re not sure ask people who know you really well.
  • What knowledge do you have that other people don’t and how can you use that to help achieve your own goals and help others to achieve theirs?
  • How can you apply your strengths to the goals that you want to achieve?


Explore your own strengths by reading:

Defining You: Discover telling insights into your behaviour, motives and results to unlock your full potential by Fiona Murden – available at amazon.co.uk, Waterstones, WHSmiths and Foyles in the UK.

From July 24th 2018 Defining You will also be available across the English speaking world e.g. amazon.com, amazon.au, amazon.ca

Defining You gives unique access to an online psychometric test providing a full personalised professional report.

Subscribe to our mailing list to get more news, tips and tools from Fiona

* indicates required

Image: pexels.com

Be the change that you wish to see in the world….

The week before last I went to the House of Commons with eighty ‘game changing’ ladies. We discussed the need for women to put their message forward, to speak up, to put their hand up – however scared we may feel. But it’s really not easy……

Eleven years ago, I struggled into motherhood. The last couple of months of pregnancy when I was meant to be relaxing I nearly lost my Mum. Every day I sat watching her fighting for her life in intensive care. Then my beautiful baby girl came, 4 weeks early. I loved her dearly from the moment she opened her eyes, but although I desperately wanted to be a wholesome stay at home mum my over anxious brain, always trying to solve the next problem, quickly turned in on itself. The plan was to take at least a year off but the only solution to dealing with my unquiet mind was to occupy it (like distracting a small child). This was important not just for me but for my family – I was not a content, positive person to be around however much I tried. So, when my baby girl was about 7 months old I began working 2.5 days a week, riddled with guilt at leaving her. The rest of the week I struggled with feeling I didn’t quite fit anywhere in this new role or with other mums who seemed to be doing a far better job than me.

The next few years were not without hiccups – calls to travel several hundred miles to see Dad when he’d ‘once again’ ended up in hospital. Each time the fear of losing him engulfed me utterly. Another pregnancy – healthy and then a scan with no heartbeat. Pregnant again – healthy again and then a scan with no heartbeat. Investigation found I had something called Ashermans Syndrome. Another operation (I’d already had 2 with the above) to ‘fix’ things, followed by yet another miscarriage. Then, along came Polly – 6 weeks early. My pregnancy was far from straight forward and during the 2 weeks spent in hospital I became totally drowned by postnatal depression. To top it off not long after Dad died. So, I was feeling pretty vulnerable for those years.

Meanwhile I was trying to get on with a career while also protecting myself. I deliberately didn’t go out looking for work, just kept my own business modestly ticking along. But when my youngest recently started school I decided it was time to pursue my career with more purpose. To follow what I’m passionate about: helping empower people with what I know, giving access to psychology and understanding of behaviour to make a positive difference. To do this I had to put my head up and be heard. However, despite being feisty and determined I am also sensitive and fragile.

Since starting to put my work and thoughts out into the ether I have been knocked down a number of times and it’s hurt without fail. Today my book, an attempt to make academic psychology – rigorously evidence-based techniques something that’s accessible and user friendly, has been majorly cut down. A one-star rating on amazon and an embittered rage against what feels like me personally has left me feeling exposed, vulnerable and ready to throw in the towel. This isn’t how feedback is done in my line of work – instead, this is anonymous, faceless and without anything helpful.

Like the punch-drunk protagonist being knocked down in a brawl I will get up again. How can I make people’s lives better and share what I’ve learnt about psychology if I don’t stumble back into the fight? What’s the point of learning what I have if I can’t make use of it? I’m scared of being insulted, being critiqued and of being vulnerable. I know that putting my head up makes me so much more exposed but to make a difference that unfortunately comes with the territory. If it’s something I believe in (which it is) and equally whatever it is that you believe in – it matters to stand tall. And if you don’t want to put your head up to be shot down then support those who do, give them the reassurance and encouragement they need.

Shelley Zalis, an amazing, strong and inspiring lady who I was recently introduced to said “A woman alone has power, together we have impact.” She’s right, but imagine what men and women can do if we all hold each other up. Speak up with me. Don’t let me or anyone else stand alone.


“Be the change that you wish to see in the world”….Mahatma Ghandi



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‘Bounce-Back-Ability’ aka Emotional Resilience

Bounce 1

Part of my job is carrying out in-depth psychological profiling to ‘check out’ the fit of leaders for roles. One client requested that I include an assessment of Emotional Resilience for every leader I saw, and I was more than happy to oblige. I’ll explain why later, but for now….

What does Emotional Resilience mean?

The word resilience comes from the Latin ‘resilio’, which means to jump (or bounce). Adding emotional refers to our ability to bounce back from stressful life events. It’s our ‘bounce-back-ability’.

We can’t avoid stress, it’s there everyday, for everyone. While the spectrum ranges from minor hiccups, like being stuck in traffic to major events, such as loss of a loved one, we all experience it. Leaders arguably encounter higher levels of stress than ‘Your Average Joe’, but it’s critical for everyone’s emotional health to manage stress.

Are some people born with more Emotional Resilience than others?

‘Yes’ there are some people who are ‘naturally’ more resilient. We all know people who glide through life without a care in the world and those who are pulled down by every minor glitch. BUT there’s also a major environmental component. So we can learn to be more resilient, and it’s definitely worth doing.

 Does our environment support us?

Unfortunately not, the International Resilience Project, which sought to understand how ‘youth’ from around the world cope with adversities found that “Only about 38 per cent of the thousands of responses….indicate that resilience is being promoted.” Sadly we’re just not set up to understand let alone promote positive psychological constructs.

Taking a personal example, a good friend died a few weeks ago, followed by my Granny. With the best intentions I was told to ‘be strong’, ‘don’t be sad’, ‘keep your chin up’. These are the typical phrases we offer to help. But what these comments unintentionally infer (and therefore what runs as an undercurrent across society) is that we shouldn’t experience the feelings, we should suppress them or avoid them. What’s more if we can’t or don’t, we’re doing something wrong or we’re weak. But this isn’t what emotional resilience is. In fact it’s a very unhealthy way to approach things.

So what does Emotional Resilience look like?

As I opened on the theme of leadership, I’ll use Nelson Mandela to illustrate the factors involved, a man who encountered extreme adversity yet came out stronger the other side.

  • Positive Self Concept & Outlook – a belief that whatever is going on, you’re still in control of the situation rather than it being something that is ‘done to you’.

Nelson Mandela was incarcerated for 27 years, without a strong belief that things were going to ultimately turn out OK it is unlikely he would have emerged the man who then became President e.g. “I am highly optimistic, even behind prison walls I can see the heavy clouds and the blue sky over the horizon.”

  • Growth Mindset – a flexibility and openness, adjusting personal expectations depending on what is thrown your way and constantly being willing to learn and develop.

Throughout his life Mandela questioned, observed, reflected, learnt and adjusted his mindset. Rather than leave prison a bitter person, he emerged a wiser and more rounded individual e.g. “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”

  • Persistence – the ability to keep on going whatever is thrown at you.

Mandela kept focused on his mission throughout his life. He had an utter belief in his vision of creating a better South Africa e.g. “Do not judge me by my successes, judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again.”

  • Strong Social Network – having strong interpersonal relationships and being willing to ask for help.

Mandela formed deep bonds with a range of people, even one of his prison guards from Robben Island, Christo Brand. Such was the depth of their friendship that Brand describes feeling like “He’d lost a father” when Mandela died.

  • Emotional Awareness – an ability to understand and accept emotions, to manage rather than deny, suppress or give in to them. This may mean being sad, but not letting the sadness linger.

Mandela faced negative emotions but he didn’t let them overcome him e.g. “The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”

A leader who has Emotional Resilience can perform even when the going gets tough, they can shoulder the responsibilities that they take on with the role. But we all need it, and in my next blog I’ll talk about how we can get more ‘bounce-back-ability’.

N.B. It’s important to understand that someone who is mentally ill won’t simply be able to ‘snap out of’ his or her condition by thinking differently. There may be a genetic or chemical component to their illness that needs to be addressed, alongside learning to approach their thoughts in an alternative way. This does not make them weak. e.g. successful people from every walk of life may be emotionally resilient yet still suffer from bouts of depression.


Links and References



Conversations with Myself, Nelson Mandela

Stein MB, Campbell-Sills L, Gelernter J (2009) Genetic Variation in 5HTTLPR is Associated with Emotional Resilience. American Journal of Medical Genetics, Oct 5; 150B(7): 900–906.

Why is Trump so Popular?

2016-06-27 14.29.08

Well maybe popular is not the right word, in a Reuters/IPSOS poll only 6% of people who were asked ‘What is your primary reason why you are supporting him?’ responded to the option ‘I like him personally’. But this makes the question ever more intriguing, why are people voting for him?

I gave a talk on neuroscience and leadership last week and it’s quite a useful backdrop to explain, at least in part, the Trump phenomena.


The Science

Neuroscience doesn’t provide all the answers (if only it did) but does unravel some of the ‘mysteries’ of the brain. The most striking thing we’ve learnt through recent advances is the similarities between our brains now and those of our ancestors 50,000 years ago. We’ve also been able to confirm the conscious versus the unconscious elements of decision-making – highlighted by the work of the brilliant Nobel prize winner Daniel Kahneman.

So if we travel back in time the reasons we respond to certain situations the way do become a little clearer. Being in a group was absolutely essential to our ancient ancestors survival. If you were out of the group, you died and so your genes died off (something to consider for all those who voted to leave the EU). Through evolution the brain mechanisms surrounding group membership became deeply embedded in our brain and are still there influencing our behaviour today.   This is mostly happening at an unconscious level and is amplified when we feel threatened, at which point up to 5 times the blood flow is diverted to our emotional over our rational brain. In the times of our ancient ancestors this aided survival; it was more important to escape a predator than to stand around thinking about it. Because these drivers are powerful yet unconscious they can very easily lead us astray in our day-to-day behaviour.


What’s This Got to do with Trump?

Even the most flexible and open-minded people amongst us are wary of people who are different from us (unless of course we’re very aware and thinking with our more advanced/rational brain regions). Our more primitive brain is only concerned with keeping us safe and being suspicious of outsiders reduces the risk of walking into a hostile environment and being killed.

Trump fuels these fears by arguing that the USA should ‘Keep out Muslims’ and that a wall should be built between the USA and Mexico. Validation is therefore given to what began as a glimmer of uncertainty.

As such, Trump creates negative bias and builds more powerful prejudices which heighten the in-group, out-group divide and furthers the fear of outsiders. Then, and here comes the scary bit, Trump positions himself as the protector, someone who can do something about this troublesome enemy. The emotional brains of his supporters are now clinging on to every word he says. Here is the man who can fight the invading savages who will come and steal their food, take their children and kill them, or so the ancient part of their brain merrily thinks. On top of this, painting a picture of threat over various ‘out groups’ rallies people in the ‘in group’ behind the leader who say they will protect them. It triggers another primitive mechanism in the brain literally designed for survival: ‘If we stick together against the enemy we will be OK’. You can see how this creates a perverse circle of emotional support for Trump.

Meanwhile the rest of the world (and a large number of Americans) are looking on in astonishment. We are not feeling threatened by the same factors, therefore can see clearly and are more scared that Trump will actually become president.


Similar Brain Mechanisms and Brexit?

Is this what happened with Brexit? A slight majority of the population, without clear facts and information to help decision making had to go with their gut. The ‘gut’, in fact being the part of the brain, evolved to keep us safe in an ancient world. This part of the brain feared above all else a potential threat: Invasion from immigrants. A phenomenon described by Kahnemann as heuristics of the brain, is the type of decision that is then post rationalized without us even realizing that’s what’s happening. A decision made unconsciously and irrationally is not generally accepted because other people want to know our reasons why. So, we post rationalize the decision, believing it’s based on knowledge and expertise that hasn’t necessarily been considered or doesn’t necessarily exist. The decision-making is, in effect, faulty. Only time will tell if the decision-making of the majority of Brits was faulty. The rest I leave with you to decide.


Related Links:



Thinking Fast and Slow, by Daniel Kahneman