The question isn’t “What were you thinking?” but “Why weren’t you thinking (i.e. considering the consequences of such actions)?” Assuming that people like Eliot Spitzer are not outright psychopaths, but just significantly flawed, what is their flaw?
How and why do people like Eliot Spitzer, Bill Clinton, Rush Limbaugh and multiple others engage in such stupid, career threatening (if not ending) actions? Bill Clinton during his testimony re: Monica Lewinsky said it was because he could. If such people feel they can “bend the rules” of the world that everyone else has to live by, what are the forces inside their brains and minds that might cause them to do so?
Neuroscience may have an explanation for this. From a neurochemical point of view, power begets an adrenaline rush and an adrenaline rush can be addicting on two accounts. First, when adrenaline is pumping through your veins and brains, you feel purposeful, powerful and almost invincible. That is highly addictive.
Even more addictive, however, is the desire to avoid the adrenaline crash which follows. One former champion athlete I know shared with me: “When you go from somebody, back to anybody, it’s the same as being nobody.” In essence, what he was describing was the fact that the thrill of an adrenaline rush is exceeded by the torment of an adrenaline crash, and people will do daring, desperate AND stupid things to keep their adrenaline level at a peak.
From a neuroanatomical point of view, men have a thinner corpus callosum than women. The corpus callosum is a fiber network that connects the left and right hemispheres. The thicker the connection, the more in contact is the purely logical and purely emotional parts of our brains and minds. The thinner the connection, the more our logic and emotion are left to their own recognizance.
Although men will say that women are more emotional than they are, the fact is that men start wars, engage in road rage, domestic violence, child molestation and other sorted and sordid behaviors much more often than women. One explanation for that may be that a women’s left (rational) and right (emotional) brains are more in contact and each will mitigate the effects of the other when things get stressful. Sure, women will scream, but it is the man who more often pulls out a gun.
Now here’s the rap on men in power. Their left and right brains are functionally hypertrophied, meaning both sides of their brains are frequently pumping on all cylinders more of the time than less driven men. In fact the highly charged emotionality of their right brains can add fuel and fierceness to their goal oriented left brains. However, rather than both brains offering a “checks and balance” to each other, they can cause a synergistic and sinergistic relationship between the two and when that happens, say goodbye to conscience and common sense.
Mark Goulston, M.D. is principal at markgoulston.com and advises, coaches, trains and intervenes with executives and senior management regarding their internal and external relationship issues. He is a best selling author and writes the Tribune syndicated column “Solve Anything with Dr. Mark.”