Featured post


Stress, mind, and leadership

Stress causes brain dysfunction, impairing the clarity of mind and judgement including the ability to evaluate one’s situation in a realistic way. Performance-impairing chronic stress is today very common at all levels of society.

It will be argued that stress-induced impairment of brain function has contributed importantly to the present serious world problems. This is because stress causes a.o. impaired judgement, lacking foresight, faltering realism, irresponsibility, strong egoism, short-sighted greed for money and power.

The impaired brain function has prevented leaders and decision-makers from making adequate decisions, and even worse, has made them neglect the interests and needs of the society for the sake of their own egoistic benefit.

Brain research reveals detrimental effects

Brain research has observed detrimental effects of stress on the functioning of the brain. Psychology has also arrived at a better understanding of the mechanisms of stress sensitivity, replacing intuitive and speculative ideas with experimentally validated theories. Human development psychology draws upon this knowledge and has developed a deeper understanding of the negative effects of stress on behavior and the development of higher stages of psychological development (self-actualization).

Chronic stress is abundant

Medical research indicates that chronic stress is abundant at all levels of society. For example, the chronic stress-related disease, high blood pressure is present in 70% of Americans at the age of 70. Of course, all cases are not caused by stress, but a large majority is.  According to a study by the American Psychological Association (2008), almost every American reported feeling stress to some degree. 30% reported chronic stress and another 50% percent reported moderate stress.

That is, 80 percent of the US population is reporting stress levels high enough to affect the mind including mental performance.

Add to this the scientific observation that many people are not aware that they are in a state of stress and you arrive at even higher number.

Stress brings about a major shift in the control of behavior

An important fact is that stress always affects the functioning of the brain in a negative way. Stress is an integrated part of the survival response that is activated when we consciously or subconsciously experience a threat.

Stress shifts the control of behavior away from higher centers in the prefrontal brain cortex to primitive mid-brain centers.

  • The prefrontal brain is responsible for intelligent, foresightful and responsible behavior vas well as for compassion and empathy.
  • The centers in the midbrain are responsible for organizing primitive Survival-Oriented-Behavior (SOB)  geared att selfishly, if not ruthlessly, surviving and asserting oneself without any consideration of the needs and problems of the others. While the prefrontal centers enable intelligence and good judgement, these qualities are not enabled in primitive midbrain centers, so the stress-induced behavior is characterised by suboptimal quality with lower intelligence and bad judgement along with absent compassion and empathy – primitive animal-level brain dysfunction (even some advanced mammals like apes have been found to behave more “humanely” when not stressed).
  • In chronic stress, brain scans have revealed so-called functional holes where there is little or no activity in the prefrontal cortex, which may cause important brain dysfunction. Below to the right, you find a picture of such a brain, having holes in the prefrontal cortex.
SOB brain
To the right a high level SOB brain with typical “functional holes” indicating no activity in areas responsible for honesty, good judgement, compassion, intelligence. creativity etc.

Conclusion 1: Brain dysfunction due to stress is epidemic

Because of the high prevalence of stress, disturbed, survival-oriented brain function is prevalent in probably a very large majority of Americans. Probably this goes for people in other developed countries as well.

Conclusion 2: Testing for low stress level in leaders is necessary

Because of the high prevalence of stress, in the population, the risk is considerable that societal leaders and other important decision-makers have suboptimal brain function due to stress. Reliable and sensitive tests exist and must be used to ensure that leaders  are selected who have are not in a state of chronic stress or have a low stress tolerance.

This would reduce the risk that leaders are appointed who will make serious mistakes, errors of judgement, or misuse their position for personal gain or criminal actions.

In this blog and associated articles, we will apply the most recent knowledge, suggesting constructive solutions to ensure better leadership which is greatly needed to solve the serious world crisis. For more, see the article “Stress and mind” and the especially important posts

Jaan Suurküla, M.D.


Is it possible to detect midbrain-dominated behavior?

A suggested stress provocation test using Brain Imaging (MEG)

As explained in this blog, midbrain dominated/SOB behavior is highly undesirable in business, financial, military governmental and other leaders. Therefore it is important to establish reliable objective tests for identifying them.

Here I will suggest a test idea that I wanted to highlight now because I believe it might be useful for objectively assessing the degree of (Mid-brain dominated Survival Oriented Behavior as well as for confirming a high level of the opposite, prefrontal cortex dominated, humane behavior (called Balanced Emphatic Behavior here – BEB), hoping someone takes on the standardisation. (It has been mentioned formerly in an article here discussing testing of midbrain-dominated behavior (called Survival-Oriented-Behaviour /SOB here).

This test might be able to contribute to objectively resolve discussions regarding the suitability of key leaders, as for example presently the doubts expressed by some psychologists of the suitability of president Donald Trump. This is highly desirable, as the psychological judgements I have seen are by no means objective because of the impossibility to asses the sanity of a person without thorough personal examination (this is my own experience from two year’s work in psychiatry).

It is based on the experience that under stress, certain areas of the brain (we call them “stress-related-brain” SRB regions below) show an increased activity as revealed by MagnetoEncephaloGraphy (MEG)  scanning, a well established method for brain imaging.

A brain-imaging (MEG)- based stress provocation test

The test I suggest might be useful in cases when other tests dont yield a clear result, that is in cases that lie in the gray-zone between behavior dominated by the midbrain/SOB and the forebrain/BEB .

I suggest the following procedure:

MEG is done in two steps.

  1. Resting
  2. Exposure to a stressful (anxiety-evoking) situation

A person who is prone to midbrain domiated behavio /SOB, shows considerably  increased activity in Stress-Related-Brain (SRB) regions at stress provocation.

On the opposite A person with forebrain dominance has a high level of stress tolerance and little of  increased activity in Stress-Related-Brain (SRB) regions

This difference is because, contrary to common belief, the stress-response is mostly not directly caused by external conditions, unless there is an obvious danger, but occurs after a subconscious assessment process, where the emotional basic trust (basic feeling of security) plays a pivotal role (In 1974 I suggested that Amygdala plays a key role here (in a chapter in the Swedish book “TM, Magi or Therapy?), and this has been confirmed to an increasing extent recently). If a person is insecure, many situations are assessed as stressful. My hypothesis has been that Amygdala is the the neural repository of fear/stress-related events, connecting trauma-related perception complexes [memory pictures combining impressions from all the sensory modalities that are neurally connected with Amygdala] and associated emotions [that is fear mostly] and I suggested that the more of such trauma memories, the more proneness for subconscious fearfulness experienced as anxiety resulting in insecure behavior). For more about this, look up the string ” insecure personality ” at “Top leaders should be tested.

People who have increased activity in SRB-regions already before stress exposure probably don’t need be stress-tested as this indicates significant chronic SOB.

In 2010, I became aware of a test, developed by the world renowned professor Zang Hee Cho, the inventor of the PET-scan method for brain imaging. He has applied the same principle as I  suggested above. He used MEG in the same way for testing alterations of brain reactions to stress.

An especially remarkable study that he did was to expose people to a very strong stress stimulus (strong heat) before and after 5 months of practice of Transcendental Meditation (TM). He found that the brain reaction to stress was lowered by 40-50% after 5 months of practice of TM indicating a considerably improved stress-tolerance = lower SOB. See the diagram below. The more excited the brain, the more colored areas light up:

The diagrams show exactly the same brain when exposed to very strong pain. The left one was made before and the right one after 5 months of TM. Each brain section to the left has its exact counterpart in the same position to the right. Compare for example the three uppermost sections in both diagrams.

A similar, but inverse reaction could be expected under the suggested stress provocation test suggested above. Before the exposure to stress, the brain would look more like the picture to the right above, and during stress, it would be more like the left picture – the more pronounced the more SOB.

This study indicates that the suggested MEG test for SOB is likely to work. Perhaps pain actually should be used as the anxiety-provoking  “stressor” in the test.

The remarkable effect of TM indicates that it is an effective method of reducing SOB. Actually this is also indicated by several other research reports including a study on people who failed on DMT (indicating high SOB) at the selection for Swedish Air-Force combat pilots. After one year the DMT-points had improved considerably, see here. A SOB-improving effect of TM has been indicated by other studies as well, including research sponsored by the NIH- indicating that TM effectively reduces the chronic stress/SOB state underlying high blood pressure (see for example About.comfor a simple summary). Other research has reported pronounced and rapid improvement of Post-Traumatic-Stress-Disorder (PTSD), that so far has been considered incurable (see PTSD and the brain).

The research on TM, including the pain study of Cho, actually underscores the  profound connection between SOB, stress tolerance and brain stress. The lower the brain stress, the lower SOB.

This indicates that the suggested MEG test is likely to be an important objective tool for selecting SOB-free leaders and establishing who is mainly forebrain-dominated.

Source: Orme-Johnson, D. W., Schneider, R. H., Son, Y. D., Nidich, S., Cho, Z-H. Neuroimaging of Meditation’s Effect on Brain Reactivity to Pain. NeuroReport, August 23, 2006.

Share this:

Excellence through Mind-Brain development

In this blog, I have been explaining the importance of stress reduction and developing more coherent brain function for achieving excellence in leadership. I am happy to find that very key message of my blog has been borne out concisely in a recent book “Excellence through Mind-Brain development“.

harung book

Excerpt of a review:

In Excellence through Mind-Brain Development: The Secrets of World-Class Performers, Dr Harald Harung and Dr Frederick Travis show that excellence in any profession or activity depends on the single variable of high mind-brain development. This research-based book explains how, with higher mind-brain development, knowledge and skills become more useful, relationships more enriching, and actions more effective. Using the experiences of top performers like David Lynch, Jerry Seinfeld, Pelé, Sir Roger Bannister, Billie Jean King, Sir Alex Ferguson and Stephen Covey, the authors show how people that excel have a much more orderly, restfully alert and economic brain.”

Link to a longer, compact review: Gower Publishing.

It is very valuable for the understanding of effective psychological performance that they have demonstrated a correlation between excellence and the quality of brain functioning – expressed by EEG coherence.

Most importantly they find that

“The factors normally thought to underlie high performance—education, age, practice and work experience, and incentives—have little or no effect on mind-brain development and therefore on the level of performance” (quote from the review of Gower Publ).


The conclusions from this research concur beautifully with the theme of this blog.

The importance of the quality of brain function for performance has been greatly underestimated so far. People have been appointed to important positions, even presidents without any consideration of their suitability from this viewpoint. In stead, as indicated here, top level CEOs, financial leaders etc have signs of important brain dysfunction with serious consequences.

This research confirms the message expressed here already 10 years ago (See Top leaders must be tested) that it is time for society as well as government and business to select leaders on scientific grounds and not on the basis of education and other factors of no importance for the quality of brain function.

On Selecting Presidential candidates

Considering the importance of such positions, it is evident that it is detrimental and potentially dangerous to the nation to elect a a president with brain dysfunction or an under performing brain.

This might be taken as as an antidemocratic or pro-elitistic standpoint.

However, democracy can be saved by establishing a requirement that a presidential candidate has to be tested for the quality of brain function, similarly as the testing used by Harung and Travis or suggested in my article “A test set for detection of Survival-Oriented-Behavior”

Man is inherently humane

A common belief is that man is by nature selfish, greedy and potentially ruthless.

However, this is not a true picture according to the article “The Capitalist Big Lie about Human Nature” by John Spritzler.  He exposes the untenability of this negative view which has been at the basis of Capitalism as well as Communism>

The Big Lie is that selfishness is the primary human motivation, always has been and always will be because it is simply human nature.

..The Big Lie about human nature is used by defenders of capitalism when they tell us that there is no point in trying to create a better world that is more equal and democratic. Even if we succeeded initially, they say, it would just revert back to the same inequality we have today because human nature would remain the same.

Spritzler notes that there are various observations indicating that humans are not by nature selfish and greedy. He mentions the unselfish behaviour in hunter-gatherer societies like the Hottentots (Bushmen).

hottentot group

“If anything is given to a Hottentot, he at once divides it among all present… He cannot eat alone, and, however hungry, he calls those who pass by to share his food. “

After presenting numerous other examples of unselfish behaviour he concludes:

“..there is abundant proof that the capitalist assertion about human nature being the same as capitalist nature is flat out false. There are countless Big Facts that refute it.”

George Monbiot has recently written an article in the same vein “We’re not as selfish as we think we are. Here’s the proof“. He mentions a not yet published survey by the Common Cause Foundation:

“..a large majority of the 1,000 people they surveyed – 74% – identifies more strongly with unselfish values than with selfish values. This means that they are more interested in helpfulness, honesty, forgiveness and justice than in money, fame, status and power.”

Monbiot also mentions a review article in the journal Frontiers in Psychology that

“..points out that our behaviour towards unrelated members of our species is “spectacularly unusual when compared to other animals”.

..Humans, by contrast, are ultrasocial: possessed of an enhanced capacity for empathy, an unparalleled sensitivity to the needs of others, a unique level of concern about their welfare, and an ability to create moral norms that generalise and enforce these tendencies.


He mentions studies of small children that indicate that already below 2-3 years of age before cultural patterns have influenced them, they are unselfish and have a good sense of fairness.

small children playing


I was quite happy to read these recent articles because this understanding is well in accord with the message of this blog that was started nine years ago:

Humans are by nature humane, unselfish, non-greedy, compassionate, (see Balanced-Emphatic-Behavior (BEB)) and regress to inhumane behaviour only under stress (see Survival-Oriented-Behavior (SOB)).

The latter behaviour pattern which is controlled by primitive midbrain centres is the remains of an earlier stage of evolution and was appropriate for optimizing survival in life-threatening situations.

The development of the prefrontal cortex brought about intelligent, foresightful  and cooperative behaviour which made it possible for the species Homo Sapiens  to survive through “smart” strategies without having to regress to primitive survival-oriented behaviour. Furthermore, it enabled the creation of societies and group cooperation that greatly enhanced the possibility to create common defense solutions against external dangers. I think that the importance of this factor  has not been sufficiently considered among researchers in this field. It seems likely that it played a key role in enabling the successful survival and expansion of the Homo Sapiens species.

prefrontal cortex evolution schematic

This enabled the successful development of more advanced cultures and the intelligent development of effective cooperation-based defenses as well as means for ensuring sufficient availability of food through teamwork in hunting as well as in growing useful food sources. This favored the selection of genes responsible for more advanced development of brain (frontal cortical) centres responsible for smart and humane behaviour on the expense of primitive, selfish, ruthless midbrain-controlled survival-oriented tendencies. Unfortunately, in our civilization, there has been a regress towards more of Survival-Oriented-Behavior because of conditions that generate insecurity and stress.

The humane, unselfish and ethically high-level behaviour of people in some indigenous cultures untouched by our “civilization” like the Hottentots is an example that our stress-ridden culture needs to learn from. Their cultural behaviour is well in accord with the vision in the blog posting “Is it possible to change the world?“.

A beautiful demonstration of the untenability of the negative belief about human nature is the experience from a San Fransisco Bay school that had severe problems with bullying, violence and chaotic lessons. The director of this School, Mr. James Dierke, got the “Best school director award” of 2008 (among 30.000 directors) for the transformation of this school to a peaceful place with no bullying and violence. The only thing he did was to introduce a simple technique with a well-documented ability to promote the development of frontal-brain dominated (BEB) behaviour. The technique was Transcendental Meditation (TM). This is just one of many examples of the transformative effects of TM. and the reason why Brasil, where TM has been practised in some schools since 30 years with similar results,  decided to make TM practice twice daily part of the curriculum of all public schools.

So the experience from schools confirms that the negative behavior tendencies believed to be fundamental aspects of human nature, are the result of disturbances that can be eliminated, giving way to friendly, unselfish, compassionate behavior – the true elements of human nature.

The dictatorial personality – a high-stress condition

(Published on Oct 22, 2008. Last updated July 5, 2018)


A high level of chronic mental stress caused by pronounced inner insecurity makes a person unsuitable as a leader. 

It brings about a predominance of survival centers in controlling behavior along with a suppression of prefrontal cortex, causing a low quality of mental performance including judgment-distorting defense mechanisms and, in the most pronounced case, sociopathic behavioral disturbances with ruthless egoism and absent empathy. I call it “Survival Oriented Behavior (SOB)”

A key characteristic is a predictability-seeking behavior which serves to reduce anxiety. This is achieved by promoting the sense of being in control and of rejecting or suppressing unpredictable factors in life. This brings about an urge for power, intolerance to “strange” and thus unpredictable behaviors, causing bullying of “odd people” and racistic attitudes.

This pattern is called the “Authoritarian Personality”. It was described by the eminent psychologist Adorno and his team over 50 years ago and has been confirmed by other scientists but they could not explain its cause. However, I have discovered that seeking control and predictability are the key factors causing exactly this behavior.

The key feature – emotional insecurity

The key reason for Survival-Oriented-Behavior is emotional insecurity, which colors the perception of life. It is called weak “Emotional Basic Trust” (EBT) in psychology.  When a person feels basically insecure, he is prone to perceive ordinary life situations as anxiety-provoking, which triggers SOB. An emotionally insecure person is mostly in the state of SOB because anxiety is present virtually all the time consciously or often subconsciously.

Weak EBT (WEBT) develops when life conditions cause feelings of fear and insecurity in childhood. Insecure parents with the instability, irritability, and aggressiveness that is evoked by stress, are not able, even with the best intentions, to create the atmosphere of security required for developing strong EBT (as stress is very common in society, so is weak EBT). Traumas like war experiences, early loss of a parent, early separation from parents, divorce, and abuse may also cause weak EBT .

Anxiety-reducing strategies

Anxiety is terrible, horrific for small children because the ability of the brain to inhibit emotional reactions gradually appears at about the age of 5-7.  Therefore, an emotionally insecure child, has a strong urge to develop anxiety-reducing strategies mostly subconsciously and they become habitual, “programmed” influencing their behavior and reactions throughout life unless actively treated.

  1. A major anxiety-reducing strategy is the use of defense mechanisms (distorting, downplaying, suppressing, ignoring anxiety-evoking impressions). These act like filters that may considerably impair the perception of reality and thereby the judgment.
  2. Another major anxiety-reducing strategy is to increase the predictability of one’s situation. Predictability enhances the feeling of security while unpredictability evokes painful anxiety.

I suggest that the Authoritarian Personality pattern is mainly the expression of pronounced predictability-seeking behavior. The symptoms of such behavior concur strikingly with the Authoritarian personality pattern as described by Adorno:

Symptoms of increased need for predictability

  • Control-demanding behavior, which includes a strong need to be in power, or dominant, if possible. “Being on top” increases the sense of security.
  • Intolerance of dissenting opinions. When on top, there is a craving for complete submission from the subordinates, because of the strong anxiety-driven need for total control. People who don’t comply, evoke anxiety and are bullied and harassed, and if possible, dismissed by the authoritarian person.
  • Need for authoritarian leadership. Submission to a strong authoritarian leader creates an increased sense of security.
  • Resistance to unfamiliar or unconventional ideas. The need for predictability causes resistance to anything that can change customary conditions in society.
  • Proneness for prejudices. The rigid adherence to preformed opinions is a kind of defense mechanism that helps to fend off (anxiety-provoking) unfamiliar (thereby unpredictable) ideas or views that challenge the world view that the person has established.
  • Strong allegiance to traditional norms. These norms provide a framework that increases predictability so such individuals tend to obey the prevailing norms very ambitiously because this increases the chances of being widely accepted in society (or at least the group they want to identify themselves with), which increases their feeling of security. The conventionalism is associated with:
  • Intolerance and aggression against unfamiliar behavior. Such behavior feels unpredictable, and therefore it evokes an uncomfortable sense of insecurity and anxiety in WEBT persons. Therefore it tends to elicit aggressive coping behavior such as rejecting, scapegoating or harassing people from other ethnic, religious and cultural backgrounds, and others who deviate from familiar behavior patterns and norms.
  • Avoidance of ambiguity. Ambiguous and complex information enhances the sense of insecurity greatly. Therefore these people want to simplify their perception of the world so as to have few nuances, either black or white, either good or bad, either yes or no, etc
  • Preference for authoritarian beliefs and ideologies. To increase the sense of security and predictability, the person prefers ideologies and creeds that provide simple and authoritative answers to world problems. Therefore they may be prone to religious dogmatism and fundamentalism, as well as political (left or right) extremism.
  • Suspiciousness. This is an expression of insecurity and an expectation that others have the same aggressiveness, lack of reliability, and dishonesty that characterizes their own survival-oriented mentality. It may evoke paranoid tendencies. Paranoia is found in many of the dictators in history along with many signs of authoritarian personality disturbance.

The above list is identical to Adorno’s list of the traits of the authoritarian personality.


The authoritarian personality pattern described by Adorno can be logically derived as a consequence of anxiety-alleviating strategies, where seeking predictability, probably since an early age, is a key theme. This increases the sense of security of these people who have an especially weak Emotional Basic Trust (inner insecurity).

In my experience, even less insecure SOB people have some tendency for using such behaviors, so the authoritarian type appears to be the extreme variety on a continuous scale.

Other characteristics of very insecure persons

  • Severe brain dysfunction when threatened. In this situation the suppression of prefrontal cortex is strong, resulting in a great dominance of the midbrain survival centers. Expressions like “lost one’s wits” in fearful situations describe this experience of an inability to think adequately. The behavior is irrational and violent reactions or panic are triggered by minimal stimuli. Precisely this behavior was the reason why the Swedish Airforce developed the Defense Mechanism Test. Its application eliminated crashes due to panicking entirely by deselecting insecure people. This condition is a maximization of the already present less pronounced brain dysfunction caused by their chronic stress condition.
  • Pronounced emotional instability. The subcortical centers that control their behavior induce preparedness for fight and suppress cortical centers responsible for balancing the emotions. Characteristically such people can react violently to very small provocations while major provocations almost inevitably bring about reckless, destructive behavior.
  • Preference for violent solutions to conflicts. Their high level of aggressiveness leads to a tendency to justify the use of violence, like the right to use personal arms for personal security. Inclined to favor wars for solving international issues.
  • “Popularity-seeking behavior”. In spite of their tendency for impulsiveness, instability, and aggression, the person may make great efforts to conceal any negative behavior in order to become accepted and popular, which increases the feeling of security. So they may appear very charming and friendly and well adapted, being keen on following all norms and informal social rules required for becoming accepted. This sign is not always present (perhaps genetic factors contribute to the ability to develop this charming “talent”).
  • Manipulativeness. This is a variety of “popularity-seeking” where the person, often from early childhood on, has learned to ensure acceptance and security through manipulation of the attitudes and emotions of people.
  • Dishonesty, unreliability. This ties closely with the manipulativeness. Lying and unreliability “widens” the possibilities for “effective” manipulation. So it is the strong inner anxiety that brings about habitual dishonest behavior as a means for increasing social acceptance as well as for increasing the ability to achieve desired goals (at any price).
  • Prominent short-sightedness. This is the result of pronounced Survival-Oriented-Behavior, and is found to some extent in SOB as well, see “Top leaders should be tested“.  The person tends to act dishonestly and unreliably although knowing that there may be a risk for disclosure. This is because the future consequences of the actions are experienced as so remote that they tend to disregard them. This is because survival-orientation instinctively brings about a disregard of anything else than what helps “survive” the immediate situation. This goes along with a suppression of the activity of the prefrontal brain which is responsible for forethought and good judgment. This pattern is most pronounced in sociopaths.
  • Weak or absent empathy, ruthlessness, reaches its maximum in authoritarian types, but is found more or less in SOB people as well. This is a consequence of the suppression of the forebrain regions that are responsible for empathy and compassion.
  • Bullying. This is a consequence of the above-described trait elements. It is driven by the intolerance to (anxiety-provoking) unfamiliar or unconventional behavior and enabled by their aggressiveness and lack of empathy.  Typically a bully attacks from the “secure” position of perfectly following all written and unwritten social norms of the group, attacking those who don’t fully comply with, or agree with, the norms or act “strangely” in some way.
  • Limited work capacity – risk for stress-burnout. Physiological stress brings about a considerably increased consumption of energy, so such people cannot work with a high output for a long time.
  • Stress-related health issues. Cardiovascular disorders including myocardial infarction, stroke, stomach ulcers, digestive disturbances, headaches and migraines, reduced immunity with frequent infections are among the most common stress-related problems.
  • Psychopathy/sociopathy is the most pronounced form of this disturbance. All the above-described traits are well-known elements of the sociopathic pattern in which they are most prominent. Recent research indicates that about 12-15% of the population have psychopathic traits, but only a few percent of them are criminals, while the “smarter” ones can be found in any sphere of society. They tend to assume leadership positions because this increases the sense of security, and this can cause great problems in companies, see “The danger of Corporate Psychopaths“. Of course, they are a great danger to any society or nation or company who elects them as a leader.
  • A considerable number of dictators have obvious psychopathic traits.

Please note that all the signs enumerated above don’t need to be present or apparent. They may be intentionally concealed.

Power may reveal the authoritarian personality

The common saying, coined by the British historian Lord Acton about 150 years ago, is that power corrupts.

However, I think it is mostly the other way around.  The strong urge for power of “Authoritarian” personalities, along with their manipulative skills. dishonesty and ruthlessness makes it likely that they achieve power positions more successfully than others perhaps to a considerable extent. The number of political leaders, including presidents and ministers, who have been sentenced for criminal acts is large all over the world.

Their mind is “corrupt” from the beginning but they hide it with their manipulative skills and mastery of popularity-generating behavior until they have reached the top. Consequently, I think a more realistic wording is:

“Power reveals the corrupt mind”.

Even most disturbed persons may appear to be symptom-free

It is an experience from psychology that even the most disturbed and insecure persons may be subjectively symptom-free. If they master the “popularity seeking” strategy well, they may seem psychologically healthy and completely normal. Even experienced psychologists are often unable to “see through” these cases according to the experience from air force pilot selection (however, persons trained at detecting well-adapted psychopaths may be able to recognize them). The Swedish Airforce noted that, under stressful conditions, this weakness had devastating effects on pilot performance (making grave judgment errors,  losing the mind, panicking, crashing). Therefore they developed a special selection test for the detection of pilots with such hidden disturbances (The Defense Mechanism Test, DMT).

Reality-distorting defense mechanisms are common

Most importantly, a great majority of persons without any conscious anxiety symptoms tested for combat pilot training were found to have considerable sub conscious anxiety (indicating SOB) according to this selection test, called the Defense mechanism test (DMT-Neumann). This accords with the conclusion of Abraham Maslow that a small minority in modern society is really healthy psychologically.

The suggested explanation for the appearance of defense mechanisms is that persons who have been traumatized severely early in life usually experience very painful anxiety. To quench this they tend to develop defense mechanisms to suppress it along with the above-described predictability-seeking behavior. Experience indicates that the most disturbed persons tend to be more or less unaware of their anxiety because their anxiety suppression mechanisms are especially strong.


In addition to having the disqualifying characteristics of SOB, the authoritarian personality has developed a pattern of behavior that may lead to more or less dictatorial leadership with a strong demand for submission along with a rigid resistance to new and creative solutions. Because of the strong preference for predictable subordinates, such a person will prefer people with authoritarian or SOB personality pattern for key positions.

Emotionally secure, creative and independently thinking people (SOB-free) are expelled because they tend to be unconventional and unpredictable, thereby creating anxiety. However, according to my experience, they usually leave the organization spontaneously, finding it suffocating when the ruler has established his dictatorial regime.

It is evident that an authoritarian personality type is highly unsuitable for occupying top positions in any organization including business, governments, military etc. Their inability to function properly, especially in stressful conditions that demand great flexibility, adaptability, creativity, excellent judgment and an unperturbed perception of reality could be disastrous. Moreover, they are prone to inhuman, aggressive, irresponsible, short-sighted and unethical actions.

For more about the harmful effects of such disturbances see “Why companies decline“.


The authoritarian personality pattern is the consequence of a high level of chronic mental stress brought about by pronounced inner insecurity. It causes a predominance of survival centers in controlling behavior along with a suppression of prefrontal cortex, causing a low quality of mental performance including judgement-distorting defense mechanisms and highly problematic, in the most pronounced case sociopathic, behavioral disturbances including a.o. ruthlessness, lack of empathy, unreliability, intolerance and a high level of aggressiveness.

As the rulership of such a leader could have disastrous consequences, presidential and vice presidential candidates and other top politicians, as well as people in administrative and corporate including financial top positions should be carefully tested as proposed in “The brains of presidential candidates must be tested”.


Adorno, T. W., Frenkel-Brunswik, E., Levinson, D. J., & Sanford, R. N. (1950). The authoritarian personality. New York: Harper and Row (pp. 228).

Related articles

How to deal with stressful superiors

Stress brings about a negative behavior pattern that may harm relationships seriously. By understanding its nature you will be able to handle it properly and preserve a good relation with a stressed superior in spite of his/her disagreeable behavior.

The physiological stress response is activated when you feel threatened. It may be due to a real threat, but most commonly it is due to emotional insecurity, called weak Emotional Basic Trust in psychology. Then primitive midbrain centers take over the control of behavior bringing about Survival-Oriented-Behavior (SOB) that often causes relationship problems. They may have various intensity depending on the level of stress. Below is a list of pronounced SOB symptoms:

  • Strong egoism. This is a key expression of the “survival mode” – just caring about one’s own interests for “survival” in the widest sense. From this follows:
    • Ruthlessness. 
    • Irresponsibility, not caring much for the needs of others or the requirements of the society.
    • Weak empathy/compassion – insensitive to the suffering of people. The behavior is geared at personal survival without considering others.
    • Low moral standards, dishonesty. Compassion is a key factor bringing about a high ethical level. In survival mode these traits are weak and absent, so one does not care much about harming others directly or indirectly through unethical behavior. E.g. a SOB type does not hesitate to use lies to promote his interests.
  • Impulsivity, difficulty in controlling impulses and outbursts of anger.
  • Aggressivity. A tendency for harsh or violent ways of solving conflicts.
  • Arrogance, self-assertiveness. A psychological counterpart of survival-oriented attitudes.
  • Weak judgment, due to impaired thinking as a consequence of suppressed forebrain centers responsible for intelligence, along with an inclination to disregard or belittle important problems due to the presence of reality-distorting psychological defense mechanisms.
  • Insecurity – need for predictability. In situations that they cannot master, SOB-s experience increased anxiety – a symptom of stress. They prefer jobs providing predictability through a framework of strict rules, like bureaucracy, certain police jobs, military (in peace times), etc. From this follows:
    • Power/control-orientation. They want to be in control and dominate because it makes them feel more secure.
    • Intolerance. People that are unfamiliar in appearance or behavior are experienced as unpredictable and arouse anxiety, which can call forth bullying and aggressive attitudes against them. Ethnic and religious intolerance are expressions of this weakness. Bullying as well.
    • Conventionalism. Conventional norms provide a framework that increases predictability. SOB-persons tend to obey the prevailing norms ambitiously also because this increases the chances of being widely accepted. Unconventional behavior evokes anxiety and consequent rejection if not aggressive attacks.
    • Weak integrity, changing convictions and opinions opportunistically, even on key issues. This is a consequence of the need to be accepted by peers and society because this increases the feeling of security.

Dealing with SOB people

People with chronic SOB for psychological reasons, which is the most common form of SOB, have conscious or subconscious anxiety caused by inner insecurity. To reduce their anxiety they need predictability and a feeling of being in control.

Therefore, the major strategy to deal with such persons is to increase their feeling of security and not to challenge their strategies for handling it. Always keep in mind that SOB is not the result of bad intentions or meanness. It is the consequence of a “survival program”, wired in the brain, evoked by powerful stress hormones that are generated when the person feels threatened which is chronically the case in emotionally insecure people (which is a very common trait).

If such a person is your superior at the workplace you will probably be able to uphold a successful relation if you follow this advice:

  • Never oppose, criticize or express doubts about his/her opinions. This is strongly anxiety-generating because it evokes a sense of lost control. Ignore opinions that you dislike and don’t argue against requests of no real importance for you or the job. If they are important, deal with them very carefully and patiently,  without any opposition. Instead, without even mentioning the problematic opinion or request, make constructive suggestions for improvements or changes, preferably as questions like “what do you think of this idea?”.
  • Be very respectful and obedient. Otherwise, it evokes a sense of lost control, causing anxiety that may transform into aggressive behavior against you.
  • Show appreciation whenever convenient. Because of their psychological weakness, these people need much appreciation. But don’t overdo it, because they tend to be suspicious and may wonder what are your intentions.
  • Don’t react against any impulsive behavior, however provocative it may feel. It causes frustration and consequent anger against you.
  • Don’t propose unconventional ideas. This increases insecurity, arousing anxiety and may cause anger.
  • Don’t behave in an unconventional way. On the opposite, follow the informal conduct code of your culture very carefully. Otherwise, you generate insecurity, anxiety, anger. Such behavior is a common cause of being bullied.
  • Don’t try to improve or correct the behavior. This evokes frustration and anger because a habitual behavior is part of the framework upholding a feeling of security.
  • In every possible way, make him/her feel secure and in full control.

This condition influences the behavior so strongly that one inevitably fails even if one wants to behave in a more friendly and positive way. So be compassionate and feel sorry for this poor fellow. Assume a therapeutic attitude, be delicate, trying to minimize the anxiety and insecurity.

If you follow this advice carefully you may experience a positive change in the attitude towards you, especially if you are very keen on being respectful and obedient, even offering to ease the workload if possible. They may feel a relief to have a subordinate who does not make them frustrated through the overt or covert resistance and dissatisfaction that their behavior tends to evoke.

The only constructive thing you can do to bring about a change is to generate an interest in programs that may improve the basic problem, deep emotional insecurity mostly generated from insecure early childhood conditions. I will deal with this issue in a later posting.

Of course,  the above advice is valid in most parts for dealing with any SOB person.

Please make these points widely known

Use email, twitter, facebook etc and please “like” this post, because many “likes”  attract more readers. This is a very common issue that has caused suffering among hundreds of millions of people because the relationship issues due to SOB are very often handled in an inadequate and counterproductive way.

Military organizations may attract psychopaths

In the posting “The danger of Corporate Psychopaths” I explained the problems psychopathic corporation leaders may cause. But for similar reasons, they are dangerous in other top positions as well.

The military organization is of such a kind that it is attractive to SOB-types of all degrees, especially psychopaths because it satisfies their psychological needs and preferences:

  • The organization is strictly regulated, satisfying the strong need of the psychopaths for predictability (rigid, inhumane formalism is an indicator of this disturbance).
  • The especially great power over subordinates that the military organization offers its leaders satisfies their need to maximize predictability by being “in control”.
  • The possibility to express their aggressivity in their professional activity.
  • The possibility to achieve a high social status, which contributes to an increased feeling of security.

Paradoxically, such people are especially unsuitable in war conditions, because of their rigidity, reality-distorting defense mechanisms and difficulty to keep their head cool under severe stress in a situation that highly demands the opposite qualities. There are many examples of such inadequate, if not disastrous, behavior of some top officers in war history. You will find more details about this personality disturbance in the posting “The dictatorial personality – a high-stress condition

The Swedish Air Force has realized the unsuitability of SOB-types in combat duty and has used the Defence Mechanism Test since over 40 years for detecting SOB in flight combat pilot training applicants, but there are good reasons to consider such a test for the selection of all military leaders.

The Norwich University Military College in Vermont, USA, has applied another approach for increasing what they call combat resilience, that is, stress tolerance in combat. They have included a technique in their curriculum that, according to several studies, has been found to reduce SOB effectively (including a study by the Swedish Airforce using DMT). The technique is called Transcendental Meditation (TM).  The Norwich Military College has launched a study for further evaluation of this technique, see “Norwich University studies the benefits of TM on Cadets“.

The strong neurotic drive of psychopaths to achieve maximal control, that is the very top position in an organization, combined with their ruthlessness and manipulative talents may bring such people to top national and international positions. Therefore, it is not surprising that most dictators and tyrants have pronounced psychopathic traits. As is well known, many of them have been military.


It is advisable for military organizations to follow the example of using the test developed in the Swedish Airforce (the Defense Mechanism Test) for selecting combat pilots.

But it should be used for all military officers, in all fields, especially importantly at higher levels. Not just for optimizing performance, including minimizing losses but as importantly for ensuring humane strategies, that is minimizing the suffering of civilians, and avoiding unnecessary killings etc in war conditions.

Same kind of “suicidal” crash as Germanwings has occurred before

Captain Jan Cocheret at Emirate Airways expressed fears of such a suicidal crash a couple of months before the tragedy.

In his premonitory piece, called “Will you just open the door?”, Mr. Cocheret said there have been several cases of pilots shutting out colleagues – either to stop them causing harm or to bring down the plane.

The most recent was in November 2013, when Captain Herminio dos Santos Fernandes, the captain of flight TM470 from the Mozambican capital Maputo to Luanda in Angola, “deliberately” brought down an Embraer 190, killing all 33 on board.

“He waited for his colleague to leave the cockpit, and once that happened, he sent the plane into a nosedive towards the Namibian desert. The last sound heard on the cockpit voice recorder was a desperate banging on the locked cockpit door,” he wrote.

He also expressed suspicions that the disappeared Malaysian flight MH730 might have been subject to the same kind of co-pilot takeover by locking out the colleague.




This indicates that this was not an isolated accident.  It underscores the need for general implementation of Defense Mechanism Test, DMT the combat pilot selection test that is used by a number of air forces to ensure that really psychologically healthy persons are selected. Common psychological tests are unable to reliably reveal these disturbances and even skilled psychologists and psychiatreists have likewise mostly not been able to detect this disturbance according to the experience of the Swedish Airforce.