Racism, a brain disorder that can be cured

Brain research opens up for a deeper understanding

The new understanding of advanced brain research makes it possible to understand how racistic behavior can appear..So far, racism has been attributed to a number of factors including fear of the unfamiliar, weak self-esteem, lack of compassion, lack of empathy. For example, Elaine Sihera, emotional health author:

Racist people tend to feel insignificant,      isolated, wronged and unloved and they    remedy that feeling of exclusion by blaming  someone else for it…

I agree with all this, but below I will show that these characteristics have a common denominator:.

A functional brain disorder

Racistic traits and behavioral tendencies can be explained as an expression of a brain response that is elicited by the conscious of subconscious feeling of fear or being threatened:

  • Threat automatically elicits the Stress Response in the brain, which switches on the Survival-Oriented-Behavior (SOB) pattern that is governed by midbrain centers. Some common features of SOB are
    • Aggressiveness, ruthlessness, tendency for brutality
    • Impulsiveness, difficult to control anger
    • Lack of compassion, empathy
    • Strong egoism (a key survival feature)
    • Dishonesty, unreliability, low ethical standards (due to inconsiderate egoism and lack of empathy)
  • People that are emotionally insecure are especially prone to feel threatened in ordinary life conditions. Weak self-confidence is stronly associated with emotional insecurity.
  • Emotional insecurity comes from traumatic or disharmonious experiences mainly in childhood (parental conflicts, divorce, lack of love etc).

The Authoritarian Personality

It is the most pronounced form of this brain dysfunction.  Its key traits are caused by their insecurity and anxiety, which brings about conscious or subconscious strategies to reduce or suppress anxiety by increasing the feeling of security (these strategies may be so successful that the person does not experience anxiety consciously). The most important strategy is predictability-increasing behavior which includes:

  • Intolerance and aggression against unfamiliar behavior. Such behaviors feel unpredictable, and therefore they evoke uncomfortable feelings of insecurity and anxiety in insecure persons. This tends to cause aggressive coping behavior such as:
  • Persecuting, scapegoating or harrassing people from other ethnic, religious and cultural backgrounds, and others whose behavior deviates from familiar patterns and norms.
  • Strong allegiance to conventional norms. The insecure persons tend to be strongly adherent to conventional norms, because these provide a framework that increases predictability. Actually, they tend to obey the prevailing norms very ambitiously, because this increases the chances of being widely accepted in society (or at least the part of it they want to identify themselves with), which increases their feeling of security. From the conventionalism follows:
  • Resistance to unfamiliar or unconventional ideas. The need for predictability causes a resistance to anything that can change familiar conditions in society, that is a pronounced conservatism.
  • Proneness for prejudices. The rigid adherence to preformed opinions is a kind of defense mechanism that helps to fend off (anxietyprovoking) unfamiliar ideas or views that challenge the world view that the person has established and strongly wants to conserve.
  • Avoidance of ambiguity. Ambiguous and complex information enhances the sense of insecurity. Therefore these persons want to simplify their perception of the world so as to have few nuances, either black or white, either good or bad, 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 are prone to religious dogmatism and fundamentalism, as well as political (left or right) extremism including racistic ideologies.

For more, see  The Authoritarian Personality

and Survival-Oriented-Behavior

Peer pressure and propaganda are not primary causes

Some believe people can become racists through peer pressure, parental upbringing and propaganda.  I do agree that people with Survival-Oriented-Behavior or Authoritarian Personality are likely to fall prey to racistic propaganda and peer pressure.

But I don’t believe that this can bring about the behaviors above without the presence of mid-brain-dominated Survival-Oriented-Behavior or Authoritarian Personality disorder. This is because when the brain is not midbrain-dominated, it is forebrain-dominated, which brings about the Balanced-Emphatic-Behavior pattern (see next heading).

Such people are fundamentally emphatic and loving, resistant to dehumanizing influences. Their behavior is not the result of “good upbringing” or “strong adherence to positive values”, but the consequence of brain function pattern that is fundamentally different from the SOB pattern:

There are many documented examples of people who have resisted intense systematic propaganda and peer pressure, for example in Nazi Germany. Among these, the German businessman, Oskar Schindler, who took great presonal risks in saving over 1500 jews from the gas chambers, is most famous because of the film “Schindler’s list“.

Balanced-Emphatic-Behavior, the opposite of SOB

This is a behavior pattern that appears when the forebrain dominates the behavior which occurs when the stress-level is low because of a high threshold to stress. Some of its key traits are:

  • Friendliness – does not use aggression as a means of solving issues.
  • Strong empathy. “Good heart” – cares for the suffering and difficulties of unfortunate.
  • Mental stability, calmness, “coolness” even under pressure,
  • Tolerance. Positively accepts people of other races and cultures, however unfamiliar and “unpredictable” they are, and finds it interesting and stimulating to interact with them.
  • Altruistic (un-egoistic).
  • High moral standards, trustworthy, avoids lies for achieving his goals.
  • Strong integrity, holds on to his convictions even under pressure.
  • Inner security – can handle the unexpected. BEB persons are fundamentally secure and take unpredictable and unexpected situations as stimulating challenges without any impairment of mental performance because there will be no interference from the survival centres.

For more, see “Balanced-Empthatic-Behavior

The cure of racism

What needs to be done is to eliminate that dehumanizing survival-oriented behavior that is controlled by the lower level brain centers that we have in common with reptiles and similar low-level animals (some brain scientists call them the “reptile brain”). We need to restore the dominance of the forebrain, the seat of the finest human traits, the Balanced-Empthatic-Behavior.

Psychologists know from experience that this is really difficult to achieve with conventional psychoterapy that takes many years to bring about a development in the direction of Balanced-Empthatic-Behavior.

The medical director of Oregon state prison indicates a solution, finding that a special technique brings about empathy in criminals who are known to commonly have pronounced SOB if not Authoritarian Personality disorder. He said in a Youtube video:

“you can’t teach compassion to a person but there is something about TM that brings out compassion”

This observation is not unique regarding this technique, Transcendental Meditation (TM). Scientific studies have confirmed that TM can promote the development of increased Balanced-Empthatic-Behavior even in former High Security Prisoners (one study reported about 50% lower receidivism among them during 5 years of follow-up).

A world-renowned american psychiatrist, professor Norman Rosenthal, former chief scientist at the National Institute of Health in the US has documented the effects of TM in his book “Transcendence“. He says about the scientifically well documented stress-reducing effects of TM:

Professor Norman Rosenthal

“if TM were a pill, it would be a billion-dollar blockbuster.”

Norman Rosenthal, M.D. Professor of Psychiatry, retired chief scientist at NIH

Source: Huffington Post interview


The understanding how stress alters behavior provides a unifying basis for understanding racism, as its behavioral elements are characteristic of the pattern of brain functioning elicited by stress, the “Survival-Oriented-Behavior “. The key causal factor is emotional insecurity that upholds chronic stress and consequent SOB that brings about the hostility, intolerance and lack of empathy characteristic of racistic behavior.

Thus, the SOB pattern including racism is not an inherent “bad behavior” and not an “ideology”, it is a response pattern that prevails when a person is insecure.

Therefore, racism can be eliminated by improving the sense of inner security. This would automatically decrease the SOB-tendencies in favor of the behavioral pattern of “Balanced-Emphatic-Behavior” which is prevalent when a person consciously or subconsciously does not feel threatened.

Fortunately there exists a simple, generally available technique, Transcendental Meditation (TM), that enables the development of Balanced-Emphatic-Behavior by strengthening the sense of inner security. In the comment by Tom Barlow you find a striking anecdotal illustration of a “cure” from racistic intolerance through TM.


More about Transcendental Meditation (TM) :


4 thoughts on “Racism, a brain disorder that can be cured

  1. Tom Barlow - Vermont.

    The following is just anecdotal, but I remember a practitioner of Transcendental Meditation once telling me that they had previously had a hatred of black people, this whole life. He said he couldn’t control it, and just standing in an elevator with a black person, he would start to shake and sweat with anger. Then he learned TM for other reasons, but, he said, immediately he was filled with over-whelming love for all races, and has been that way ever since. Interesting to think about racism as a brain disorder, brought about by decades (maybe generational centuries) of structuring the brain to be that way, and that something proven through neuroscience to have immediate effects on the brain could change that mindset.


    1. Jaan Suurkula Post author

      Yes, the changes brought about by TM according to brain research have been found to occur rapidly and are associated with increasing BEB-dominance behaviorally as well as neurophysiologically as indicated by growth of EEG-alpha activity in frontal brains leads.

      The research on TM has actually contributed to the understanding of the neurophysiological basis of BEB dominance.


    2. Jaan Suurkula Post author

      Actually, I have had a similar experience. My family fled from Estonia when the Soviet troops occupied the country in 1944. Because of this, I have grown up in an atmosphere of hatred to Russians. This naturally made me adopt this attitude. Through the practice of TM quite soon my hatred spontaneously vanished and after returning to Estonia I was really happy to make Russian friends.



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