Survival-Oriented-Behavior (SOB)

(This has been copied, with some modification, from the article “Top leaders must be tested” for your convenience)


It has been established that there are two major patterns of human behavior that reflect two modes of brain operation:

  • Survival-Oriented Behavior (SOB). Controlled by primitive areas in the middle of the brain.
  • Balanced-Empathic Behavior (BEB) . Controlled by the most advanced levels of the brain in the prefrontal cortex.

Survival-oriented behavior (SOB)

The SOB is associated with deficient intellectual functioning causing weak judgment and foresight. An important weakness, associated with SOB, is the presence of psychological defense mechanisms. These are “psychological blinders” that limit or distort perception when the situation is experienced as threatening. So people with SOB have significant difficulties in assessing a stressful situation in a realistic way.

When SOB is most pronounced, which occurs under much stress, the person is emotionally unstable, impulsive, negative, aggressive, irresponsible, very egoistic, self-assertive and unempathic. These traits may be barely noticeable, if at all, when the person is not stressed. Especially so if he/she has been brought up to suppress them, which is not uncommon in some cultures and social groupings.  But this “polish” disappears sooner or later when the level of stress increases.

BalancedEmpathicBehavior  (BEB)

The person is balanced, emotionally stable, friendly, responsible, positive and empathic. The thinking is realistic, clear, creative, broad-minded with great foresight. Characteristically, there is a high level of stress tolerance enabling the person to maintain this behavior even under very fearful, stressful or demanding conditions. For more about BEB, click here.

SOB is a primitive survival program

While Balanced-Emphatic-Behavior can only appear when a person feels secure, SOB appears instantly when a person feels threatened and it goes along with the activation of the “fight-or-flight” physiological state, called the stress response. This is a primitive alarm response entirely geared at enabling survival physiologically as well as psychologically. Its intensity can vary from mild to severe and it can be chronic to a more or less pronounced degree. Below we will describe behavioral patterns commonly associated with SOB in greater detail.

Details about the Survival-Oriented Behavior (SOB) pattern

These are some scientifically established signs of SOB:

  • Impulsive, difficulty in controlling impulses and outbursts of anger.
  • Aggressive. Not only in direct behavior but also in attitudes to violence, like the preference for using arms and wars for solving conflicts.
  • Strong egoism. Puts one’s own needs above those of everybody else including even the closest ones. This is a key expression of the “survival mode”. From this follows:
  • Irresponsibility, ruthlessness in pronounced cases of SOB. Does not care to follow rules and regulations, even if it may expose others to harm or danger.
  • Greediness is caused by a great need for establishing outer/material security as inner security is lacking.
  • Weak empathy/compassion – insensitive to the suffering of people. Does not care much about the suffering and problems of poor and sick people. This is another expression of the survival-oriented behavioral mode driven by primitive brain centers which are geared at personal survival without considering others.
  • Low moral standards. Compassion and love are key factors 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.
  • Weak integrity, changing convictions and opinions opportunistically, even on key issues. It is an expression of insecurity – an urge to be accepted at any cost. For example, politicians accepting millions in sponsorship, thereby having to satisfy the needs of the sponsor at the expense of personal convictions.
  • Weak judgment, due to lacking 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). The ability or inability to act intelligently and coherently under the stress of unprepared public appearances may be a good indicator of the level of SOB.
  • Insecurity – need for predictability. In situations that they cannot master, SOB-s experience much-increased anxiety – a symptom of stress.
  • Power-oriented. They want to seize power – from micro (family) to a social macro scale (this is more common among bureaucrats, military, managers, political leaders) because it makes them feel more secure. Or they seek jobs with a rigid rule framework, like police, bureaucracy, law etc
  • Intolerance. People who look unfamiliar or have different manners than the customary ones are experienced as unpredictable. Therefore they arouse anxiety, which can calls forth bullying and aggressive attitudes against them. Ethnic and religious intolerance are expressions of this weakness.

It is evident that a person with SOB is unsuitable, and may even be dangerous, in top positions in politics, military, companies and the financial world.

For the most pronounced variety of this disturbance, see “The dictatorial personality – a high-stress condition”

SOB is explained in more detail in the Appendix below.


Details about Survival-Oriented-Behavior (SOB) = Stressful behavior

A more common name for SOB is stressful behavior which is exactly the same thing. I am using SOB because:

1. It gives an idea of its cause, which is the conscious or subconscious feeling of being threatened. Even just a feeling of being insecure is sufficient to evoke a tendency for SOB.

2. It gives an idea of its nature. It is a primitive defense response with the purpose of maximally enabling survival.

3. Recent research has found that people may even have high levels of stress hormones in the blood and still they can be totally unaware of being stressed. So SOB can exist without any subjective experience of stress.


The symptoms of stressful behavior have been mapped very extensively and we have listed some of the most common ones above under “signs of SOB”.

It is basically a primitive, instinctive behavioral pattern that is orchestrated from the midbrain survival centers.

Its key purpose is to ensure survival at any cost. It is a behavior “program” that fulfills it purpose by making the person ruthless, careless, egoistic, and in severe cases, unempathic, only pursuing his/her own short-sighted instinct to survive, which in societal situations can appear as a strong urge for self-assertion. Even if the sense of being threatened is internal (so called trait-anxiety, which is very common), the person acts subconsciously in the same way as if there existed some external danger.

In persons with chronic SOB, this colors their behavior and attitudes. Its most extreme form is the authoritarian personality pattern, see my article “The Authoritarian Personality Type”.

Suppression of higher brain centres

It has been well established that SOB brings about a suppression of higher brain centers responsible for intelligent, creative, foresightful, caring, responsible and empathic behavior. This is because, in a dangerous situation, the action must be instinctive and instantaneous ruthlessly geared at personal survival. There is no time for the pondering and reflections associated with intelligent behavior.

The suppression of the “intelligence centers” of the brain explains the common experience that people loose their capacity to think clearly and intelligently in stressful situations. If the person performs far below his normal intellectual level in a stressful situation, it is a strong indication of significant SOB-proneness. Considering that a political leader, financial leader or corporation leader may be exposed to heavy stress and has to make rapid decisions under such circumstances, a SOB-prone person is highly unsuitable.

Reality-distorting defense mechanisms

Another problematic aspect of people with proneness for SOB is the readiness to use defense mechanisms. Their purpose is to suppress uncomfortable impressions or information that increases the anxiety level. Such subconscious reality-distorting mechanism are suppression, distortion, belittling and reinterpretation. They are often acquired subconsciously at an early age and are integrated as an automated part of the behavioral pattern of the person, who mostly is unaware of their existence (unless having received psychotherapy and the like).

It is obvious that a person with such a disturbance may commit severe errors of judgment, which may be aggravated by their impulsiveness and aggressiveness and their suppression of dissent.

Insecure personality – seeking predictability

The key reason for SOB is insecurity, or weak Emotional Basic Trust (EBT), which colors the perception of life. When a person feels basically insecure, he is prone to perceive ordinary life situations as anxiety-provoking, which triggers SOB.

Weak EBT (WEBT) develops when life conditions create 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. Weak EBT may also be caused by specific traumas like war experiences, early loss of a parent, early separation from parents, divorce and abuse.

The strong sense of inner insecurity due to WEBT causes a great need for predictability and security in life, because this reduces the intensity of SOB and the associated painful anxiety. The person gets nervous or panicks in unprepared situations while behaving apparently normally when he senses that the situation is under control.

This is why The “Authoritarian personality type”, a form of SOB associated with especially strong insecurity endeavors, to a problematic extent, at increasing the feeling of security by increasing the predictability of their situation. See The Authoritarian personality type.”


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