A test set for detection of Survival-Oriented-Behavior

By Dr Jaan Suurküla

As explained in other postings, Survival-Oriented-Behavior, or rather the brain stress bringing it about, has detrimental effects on leadership both when it comes to cognitive qualities including the ability to realistically judge situations as well as on foresight, reliability, morality,  and empathy.  In the posting “Wall Street Brain disorder” I have explained how dangerous and destructive  leaders with such qualities may be especially in their fullblown scale, the psychopathic disorder. Fortunately, there are tests that could make it possible to eliminate such persons from influential positions.

For diagnosis of SOB, I  propose a combination of these tests:

1. Defence mechanism test (DMT-Neuman)

This is a sensitive and reliable method for detecting disturbances associated with SOB, used for selecting combat pilots as well as top executives. It detects the presence of psychological defence mechanisms (DM) that suppress or distort anxiety-provoking impressions, thereby impairing judgment. DM are an expression of chronic anxiety, so called “trait anxiety”, and can be understood as a habitual means of suppressing impressions that increase anxiety. It has en excellent track record and is used by a number of Air Forces for selecting “Crash-Proof Pilots”. For more, see Defence Mechanism Test

People with apparent Defense Mechanisms (DM) would probably not need more testing, while I think people with lower levels of DM could be tested with brain imaging as a complement if they are otherwise very competent for the job.

Please note that the experience from the Swedish and other air-forces show that conventional psychological tests for indicating anxiety proneness (SOB) are much too insensitive and miss a majority of SOB cases, even severe ones. This is the reason why DMT was developed and is used by several air-forces around the world as the major selection instrument for combat pilot training.

2. Brain imaging

There are different methods for imaging the functioning of the brain. Positron Emission Tomography (PET) and MagnetoEncephaloGraphy (MEG) are among the most used ones.

MEG has been found to be useful for imaging the activation of centers governing survival-oriented behavior. It is simpler than PET, seems to give apparently sufficient iformation and is therefore desirable.

PET has been commonly used for imaging the activity in the brain cortex, including detecting “functional holes”, as illustrated in the brain imaging picture below.

To the right a high level SOB brain with typical "functional holes" indicting no activity in areas responsible for honesty, good judgement, compassion, intelligence. creativty etc.
To the right a high level SOB brain with typical “functional holes” indicting no activity in areas responsible for honesty, good judgement, compassion, intelligence. creativty etc.

Imaging would be valuable for detecting SOB, because the presence of  functional holes indicates brain dysfunction as seen in a high level of SOB..

3. EEG coherence analysis

There is a test procedure, using computerized EEG analysis, so called EEG coherence analysis that has been found useful to assess the opposite of SOB, that is the degree of prefrontal cortex dominance (see “Top leaders must be tested“) and the associated integration of the functioning of the brain, which appears as increased EEG coherence. It might be especially useful for identifying “BEB-personalities” the opposite to SOB-types. See also the research by professor Harald Harung at the Oslo University in Norway, mentioned in the posting: Excellence through Mind-Brain development


These tests are quite sufficient for detecting definitely unsuitable persons as well as indicating excellent suitability – for the latter DMT and EEG-coherence are very valuable indicators and would, when used together, provide a very good indication of suitability in the sense of being high BEB-type. Actually DMT only has been used with great success for selecting combat pilots, (see DMT test) as well as top level bussiness managers. Brain imaging would be suitable when additional investigation is needed for assessing the degree of SOB as indicated by the presence of functional holes in the cortex..

Final remarks

Chronic stress is a very common condition and has serious detrimental effect on the quality of the functioning of the brain associated with Survival-Oriented-Behavior.

Therefore, it is very important that top-level decision-makers, including top politicians and governmental executives are subjected to objective testing such as suggested here in order to ensure that they don’t have this detrimental condition.

I think it would be of great value for the society if top leaders were selected among those performing best on such tests. In addition to ensuring intelligence, foresight and excellent judgment, pre-frontal cortex dominance is associated with responsible, reliable, honest and humane behavior, that is highly desirable in top leaders and executives.

As pointed out elsewhere, the recent economic depression would probably not have occurred if such people had been in charge in stead of the SOB-types – shortsighted, greedy, ruthless, irresponsible and dishonest (to an appalling extent criminal) people apparently dominating Wall Street financial institutions.

An additional test that might be useful in certain cases

Stress provocation test using MEG

This is a new test idea of mine that needs to be standardized. I mention it, because I believe it would be useful for objectively assessing the degree of SOB as well as for confirming a high level of BEB, hoping someone takes on the standardisation. It would be useful in cases when the above tests dont yield an enough distinguishing result, that is in cases who lie in the gray-zone between SOB and BEB.

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 MEG scanning.

I suggest the following procedure:

MEG is done in two steps.

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

A person with a high level of stress tolerance will show little  increased activity in Stress-Related-Brain (SRB) regions at stress provocation. But, in a person who is prone to SOB, considerably increased activity can be expected in 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 an 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 percept complexes [memory pictures combining impressions from all the sensory modalities that are neurally connected with Amygdala] and associated emotions [that is fear mostly] and 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.

Addition March 2010

I have become 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 for 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.

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.


4 thoughts on “SOB-test

  1. winnie

    I like your theory. and I share your thought on Having stress test for our leaders…. Thanks for sharing this information.


    1. Jaan Suurkula Post author

      Thank you for the appreciation.

      We can bring about a change by creating awareness about the great need for stress tolerance testing.

      You can help by spreading the word. Several others are already doing so and therefore the number of visitors of this blog has been growing without me making any “marketing” of this blog. I am grateful for any suggestions in this regard.


  2. Amber

    Great article .The term you proposed is very apt as it combines all the points brilliantly i am researching on defense mechanism for a while but first time came across with this term survival oriented why its so that psychology cummunity is nt using it more though its more appropriate and simplistic with respect to core issue underpinning DM and Fear


  3. Ellin Callvis

    Yes, a wonderful insight into what is wrong with our world!!
    Just for discussion, could it be that some “leaders and decision-makers” AVOID stress by suppressing impressions that increase anxiety? As in a CEO of an oil and gas corporation who simply denies the reality of global warming, thereby avoiding the stress of guilt that should go with that CEO position.



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