The Brain of a Spiteful Person

Click here to read an original op-ed from the TED speaker who inspired this post and watch the TEDTalk below.

Rebecca Saxe's talk, "How To Read Each Other's Mind", made me think about discussing the subject of scanning the brain of a spiteful person. Let's say we characterize spitefulness as someone who lies for manipulation, who cheats, who treats people unfairly and discriminates, who is aggressive, who does not respect others' rights and functions purely based on a self-interest mode. When I talk to my students about how it would be possible, in the near future, to measure peoples' covert intentions rather than their overt behaviors in addition to their unconscious thoughts through their brain activity, they ask me if there is a way to scan and read the brain of a mean person. My answer is generally yes but it is more complicated than just a yes.

The brain is a complex organ with an unlimited potential; it is a tool through which we experience life and from an identity. Our brain gives us the opportunity to be as evolved as we choose to be depending on how we perceive our interactions with life and how we form our neural connections. This means we can form an identity so unlimited that it realizes that we are not separate from the rest and that we are all pieces of the same puzzle. In order for us to flourish, we need to help as many people as we can to flourish as well. This concept is not a philosophy but is something we witness almost on a daily base.

To see why humans act in positive and negative ways toward their fellow humans, why some of them have rigid ideas, why some stereotype and have biased assumptions about each other, why some lie to take advantage of others, why some compete at all costs without considering other peoples' rights, why some have an advanced level of unconditional compassion, and why some have no empathy toward others, the brain can be used to read and understated humans better.

A healthy brain has all parts working together in harmony with the upper brain working as the CEO. -- Roya R. Rad, MA, PsyD

When it comes to the brain, there are three major parts: from the reptilian (at the base of the brain) to old mammalian (mid brain) to new mammalian (upper brain) with the last one being the most evolved one. The reptilian brain is the seed to major basic emotions like fear and aggression, the old mammalian brain has the limbic system which controls general and more complex emotions, and the new mammalian brain has the most advanced emotions like unconditional compassion and empathy and uses reason and rationality to control all the emotions in moderation and productively. A healthy brain has all parts working together in harmony with the upper brain working as the CEO.

What makes us different from other species is that we can reason with our emotions through our frontal lobe. Through reasoning combined with compassion, we can comprehend that in order for us to have a fulfilling life and we can't violate the same rights in others. The more advanced we become, the more unconditional this thought pattern is and this specific activity can be measured in the frontal lobe. For example, when people do critical thinking or are having very compassionate emotions, brain scans show that their frontal lobe is more active.

When individuals respond to situations based on limited and quick processing, there is no time to put oneself in someone else's shoes, to feel other people's pain and to have compassion. This type of response is emotional rather than rational and while it is vital for the human brain to respond to certain situations quickly, in many other situations where rational judgment is necessary, the person has to train her mind to take the information to the new mammalian portion of the brain for processing before responding.

To finalize, as we evolve, our brain's activity responds to our evolution. Science is discovering a lot in this area but there is so much more to learn but now evidence is indicating that change in terms of growth is necessary and a part of our nature. What does not grow decays, and the brain is a part of this as well. Now the question is, which one do you choose: growth or decay and when?

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