Moral Reasoning, Phineas Gage and Neuroscience

Moral Reasoning, Phineas Gage & Neuroscience

or

Neuroscience of Normal & Impaired Moral Reasoning

(A rough and ready PDF of a more advanced, extended version of this draft paper with footnotes can be downloaded…

as well as 75 propositions from a lengthened conference presentation and another based on an extended case study of a “Disordered Leader” – Hitler)

 

Moral reasoning applies critical analysis to specific events to determine what is right or wrong, and what people ought to do in a particular situation. Both philosophers and psychologists study moral reasoning, which typically applies logic and moral theories, such as deontology or utilitarianism, to specific situations or dilemmas.

However, people are not especially good at moral reasoning. Indeed, the term moral dumbfounding describes the fact that people often reach strong moral conclusions that they cannot logically defend. In fact, evidence shows that the moral principle or theory a person chooses to apply is often, ironically, based on their emotions, not on logic.

Their choice is usually influenced by internal biases or outside pressures, such as the self-serving bias or the desire to conform. So, while we likely believe we approach ethical dilemmas logically and rationally, the truth is our moral reasoning is usually influenced by intuitive, emotional reactions. (Ethics Unwrapped; McCombs School of Business).

While moral reasoning can be undertaken on another’s behalf, it is paradigmatically someone’s first-personal (individual or collective) practical reasoning about what, morally, they ought to do. Philosophical examination of moral reasoning faces both distinctive puzzles – about how we recognise moral considerations and cope with conflicts among them and about how they move us to act – and distinctive opportunities for gleaning insight about what we ought to do from how we reason about what we ought to do. Even when moral questions explicitly arise in daily life, sometimes we act impulsively or instinctively rather than pausing to reason, not just about what to do, but about what we ought to do. (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy).

Psychology has a long history of demonstrating a fundamental difference between how people believe they will act and how they actually do act in the real world (Milgram, 1963; Higgins, 1987). More recent research (Ajzen et al, 2004; Kang et al, 2011; Teper et al., 2011) has confirmed this “intention–behaviour discrepancy”, revealing that people inaccurately predict their future actions because hypothetical decision-making requires mental simulations that are abbreviated, unrepresentative and decontextualised (Gilbert and Wilson, 2007).

This “hypothetical bias” effect (Kang et al, 2011) has routinely demonstrated that the influence of socio-emotional factors and tangible risk (Wilson et al, 2000) is relatively diluted in hypothetical decisions. Not only do hypothetical moral probes lack the tension engendered by competing, real-world emotional choices but they also fail to elicit expectations of consequences, both of which are endemic to real moral reasoning (Krebs
et al, 1997).

Indeed research suggests that when real contextual pressures and their associated consequences are brought into play, people can actually behave in characteristically immoral ways (Baumgartner et al, 2009; Greene and Paxton, 2009).

There is important and ongoing research examining the neural basis of what this research refers to as “Constructive Leadership”, notably in the area of altruistic decision making (Moll et al, 2006).

Also being researched are the neural networks or brain regions underlying the conflicting motivation of maximising self-gain at the expense of another , which are also only recently becoming better understood,  with more “light” now being shed on the “darker”  neurological aspects of what my research refers to as “Destructive Leadership” as (mal) practiced by “Disordered Leaders”.

One of the primary reasons for this research was  ascertaining why some of the most self-centred in society did not appear to engage in “moral reasoning”, especially at times of key decision-making. A chapter I wrote during 2015 arising from an EBEN Research Conference in Copenhagen, published by Springer early 2017, was entitled “Dispositional Attribution of Corporate Executives” with the subtitle querying “Is self-interest a conscious decision or a state of mind?”

That paper opened with a quote from John Milton who observed in ‘Paradise Lost’ in 1667:

‘The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven.’

Some organisations can be heaven in which to to work. Others can be hell. Some leaders and managers can make a heaven of hell. Others a hell of heaven. Some leaders instil a positive, inclusive culture. Others exploit fear. Why is this so and what are the implications for business ethics research?

This paper seeks to consider why some leaders appear more conscientious than others and inculcate admirable ethical standards amongst their colleagues while for others ‘winning at all costs’ dominates proceedings throughout their organisation, by way of considering the ‘dispositional attribution’ of corporate executives: their personal traits and internal characteristics as opposed to the situational or external influences which arise from environment or culture.

The degree of personal integrity of an organisation’s dominant individuals contributes significantly to the prevailing level of corporate integrity, with some cultures facilitating and promoting and others prohibiting and hindering the personal integrity of employees coming to the fore.

Intolerance of low integrity by leaders of high personal integrity ensures unethical instances are not condoned or repeated, while the acceptance of low integrity by lesser leaders ensures instances are permitted and hence more likely to be repeated by the corporate culture prevalent within their organisation.

A cornerstone assumption of business ethics research would appear to be that all corporate decision makers are actually capable of reasoning morally. This paper seeks to consider whether this may be a valid assumption and what the implications could be for both business leadership and business ethics research if it transpires not to be.

The fact that those lacking in the emotions which most people possess have been shown to so readily and perhaps unwittingly engage in high levels of pathological lying and deceit, cunning manipulation and egocentric, callous and impulsive behaviour, characterised by a lack of responsibility, empathy and remorse, are also well versed in using their charm, confidence and arrogance to hide their true traits even from experienced psychologists poses many implications for the direction of business ethics research.
 
At its most basic, much of the business ethics debate discusses why fundamentally good people do something wrong, usually under some form of pressure. This paper proposes that unethical acts may also be performed by people who may themselves be fundamentally bad, doing what comes most naturally to them, causing harm to others, but who have developed a well-practiced expertise at portraying themselves as being good people. Most of the time. Then someone crosses their path when their true nature and covert characteristics may be exposed. Their thinly veiled lack of concern for others, camouflaged emotional poverty, hidden hatreds, cloaked or even absent conscience and other previously concealed attributes and clandestine traits are no longer obscured by their charming veneer and disguised by their mask of sanity.

This paper advocates further exploration of a potential causal relationship between business ethics failures and leaders displaying what psychologists term ‘consistent irresponsibility’, capable of routinely acting against the common good and doing so with what they describe as ‘emotional impunity’.

Ultimately this paper queries at a macro level the ethical consequences of some business people potentially lacking the psychological capacity to reason morally. For some in society is self-interest a conscious decision or a state of mind?”

 

Hence one of the reasons this research was conducted  was to examine the psychological and neural basis of those I refer to as “Disordered Leaders” who (mal)practice “Destructive Leadership” and why experience with over 50 such people during my own career suggested that at times of key decision-making they appeared to consistently prioritise their self-interest over all other considerations, acting in an impulsive manner unconcerned with the consequences of their challenging behaviour and sometimes extraordinary decision-making on anyone or anything other than themselves, including managerial colleagues, other stakeholders and ultimately in extremis even the very viability of the organisation this research argues they “mis-led”.

Half a dozen (of many) conclusions arising from this research (summarised in other papers including “What Society Needs” ) include the observations or propositions that:

  1. Givers” being more interested on others than themselves make for far more effective and motivational leaders than “takers” more interested in themselves than others
  2. Society Needs leaders expert at making friends out of enemies than enemies out of friends and who are well capable of love and find it impossible to hate, rather than those well capable of hatred but find it impossible to love.” (See paper “Society Needs”)
  3. As people with Identifiable Personality Disorders can be “found in every race, culture, society and walk of life” (Hare, 1993), one of the most critical matters for global society to appreciate is that as “Disordered Leaders” who practice “Destructive Leadership” see things differently, experience people differently, perceive many matters differently, think differently, behave differently and inhabit a quite different world from most others in society, it is imperative that they be recognised by decision-makers as being substantially different from the norm, being consummate actors hiding their true selves much of the time, hence need to be dealt with significantly differently, including denying them positions of power which they can only abuse, if they are no longer to be permitted to continue to damage the potentially even more wonderful world that everyone else inhabits, which would be far safer, fairer, cooperative, just, harmonious, pleasant and simply much better off if it were exclusively led by “Constructive Leaders”.
  4. “As those with a Personality Disorder are IDENTIFIABLE, by way of their own behaviour which they struggle to change, prevention is preferable to the improbability of cure.”
  5. “Those lacking the core essence of humanity need to be denied the opportunity to allow their inhumanity to negatively impact the lives of others, no matter the arena.”
  6. “As far as leadership is concerned, all the intelligence in the world is of little or no value, if none of it is emotional

Surely everyone, from the most responsible Constructive Leaders to the most irresponsible Destructive Leaders possess empathy, with a genuine interest in others including sympathy for their situations, especially those they were chosen to lead?

Surely everyone can experience guilt, express remorse for wrongdoing and accept responsibility for their errors and those of the people they led?

Indeed surely everyone has a conscience, knows the difference between right and wrong and can act accordingly?

Along with many other behavioural traits, surely everyone in a managerial position is ultimately capable of deliberating wisely and astutely to provide a sensible and responsible direction for the business or other entity they manage or lead, including nations?

Or might there be “something wrong” with those who do not seem to possess a sense of what may be wrong, both when decision-making and treating other people in quite the opposite manner expected of people holding responsible positions in society?

Indeed what might “something wrong” actually be?

The answer proposed in 2015 (after 30 years in industry and teaching, incapable of understanding “selfish difficult and proud” or SDP people with a truly extra-ordinary mindset) was that those with a range of Personality Disorders – notably “Cluster B” (Narcissistic, Borderline, Histrionic & Anti-social) plus Paranoid from Cluster A, also referred to as the “Dark Triad” (Narcissism, Psychopathy & Machiavellianism, or the Dark Tetrad adding Sadism) did not appear to possess the psychological capacity to fully engage in what this research refers to as “Constructive Leadership”, nor consistently behave in a responsible manner.

Indeed engaging in what many others might consider to be disrespectful, unfair and unethical behaviour did not seem to cost them a bother at all, and even appeared to give them a peculiar form of pleasure.

Not only did their (with familiarity, entirely predictable) behaviour differ from acceptable societal norms, but research suggests that their brains also seem to differ from what psychiatrists, psychologists and neuroscientists consider to be the normal brain.

Indeed fMRI and TMS research suggests that neurological impairments contribute to they not appearing to engage in either “moral reasoning” or even “rational reasoning”.  On those occasions when other stakeholders, including managerial colleagues, might deem these abilities to be most required, their behaviour and decisions could be seen to be at their most perverse, contrary, sometimes bizarre and often quite irresponsible.

Such scenarios, more common than many who have not experienced them might believe, make the task of their more responsible colleagues all the more challenging as they strive to “do the right thing” for the entity and its stakeholders.

People who very occasionally display some of the traits identified in this paper may be entirely normal and just be responding to pressure. It is when these traits recur frequently and can with familiarity be predicted that perhaps other people should be anxious, as the behaviour may be indicative of a “Personality Disorder”.

Too many in society appear unaware what day-to day behavioural traits self-centred leaders display, particularly those who may be capable of being diagnosed with any of a range of “Personality Disorders”, including narcissistic, all of which involve of “a way of thinking, feeling and behaving that deviates from the expectations of the culture, causes distress or problems functioning, and lasts over time.”

The latest ICD-11 definition from the World Health Organisation’s “International Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems” (ICD) is as follows:

“Personality disorder is characterised by a relatively enduring and pervasive disturbance in how individuals experience and interpret themselves, others, and the world, that results in maladaptive patterns of cognition, emotional experience, emotional expression, and behaviour.

These maladaptive patterns lead to significant problems in psychosocial functioning that are particularly evident in interpersonal relationships, manifested across a range of personal and social situations (i.e., not limited to specific relationships or situations).”

The most recent fifth edition of the “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders” (DSM-5) from the American Psychological Association (APA) stresses that a personality disorder is an enduring and inflexible pattern of long duration leading to significant distress or impairment (and is not due to use of substances or another medical condition).

Indeed none of the modern definitions of a Personality Disorder, including:

“a way of thinking, feeling and behaving that deviates from the expectations of the culture, causes distress or problems functioning, and lasts over time”

or

“a chronic, inflexible, maladaptive pattern of perceiving, thinking and behaving that seriously impairs an individual’s ability to function in social or other settings”

or

“clinically significant maladaptive personality traits… involving pervasive patterns of perceiving, relating to, and thinking about the environment and the self that interfere with long-term functioning of the individual and are not limited to isolated episodes”

describe traits which should be possessed by leaders of organisations or society, especially as the term “maladaptive” refers to “not being conducive to adaptation” or “not having the ability to change to suit different conditions”.

If more people were aware of such traits as being indicative of a Personality Disorder, it might be expected that such people would be disqualified from becoming leaders of other people and societal organisations.

When an individual’s personality appears to:

“interfere with their ability to function well in society, including causing problems with interpersonal relationships”, termed “functional impairment”,

they simply cannot be trusted with positions of responsibility for people or organisations.

Yet time after time again society chooses such people for senior roles, before they subsequently are given ample reason to regret their decision.

Then, given their “sense of entitlement” and “fondness for power”, which they can only abuse and fail to use in the constructive manner intended, they can prove to be extremely difficult to remove from positions for which they should never have even been considered…

… if only the decision-makers with responsibility for selecting, electing, hiring and promoting people to senior (indeed any) responsible roles across all branches of global society were better frequented with what actually constitutes a “Personality Disorder” and how psychologists refer to many such people as being “consistently irresponsible”.

Actual “diagnosis” is of course the realm of mental health professionals, especially psychiatrists (medical doctors), psychologists and psychoanalysts.

Others however may be able to consider or IDENTIFY that “there is something not quite right here” by way of what they struggle most to change – their own (“maladaptive”) behaviour, which allows other far more responsible coworkers to ADAPT their own way of thinking and behaving to DIMINISH the degree of harm which “Disordered Leaders” can do to many aspects of organisational life, including in extreme situations even its continued existence, in which case they need to be considered and referred to as being a “viability liability”.

I refer to this as a policy of “IDENTIFY AND ADAPT” to diminish the degree of difficulty, disagreement and disharmony such leaders can cause when already in roles they prove to be unsuitable for.

Ultimately they are more likely to do more harm than good to the entity they mis-lead and the people they disrespect, those they should be setting an admirable example for, which makes a policy or practice of “IDENTIFY AND DENY” such people the power they are likely to abuse all the more critical.

Intimidation and aggression produce fear, anxiety and discouragement, which neuroscience proves prevent our minds from being both pro-social and creative, something which astute leaders would prefer their followers to be maximising rather than preventing.

Yet somehow people who regularly rather than exceptionally put-down, humiliate, discourage and disrespect others can extraordinarily be quite wrongly associated with “strength” of management, leadership or personality, believing consistent bullying is part and parcel of acceptable people management.

It isn’t, and never will be, just an aspect of a disordered personality less capable of “moral reasoning” or separating right from wrong and acting accordingly

Surely quite the opposite applies and intimidation in its many forms should never be considered to be a “strength”, and certainly not in those trusted with responsibility for other people.

Indeed society continues to appoint those to positions essentially with responsibility for the lives and emotions of others – who cannot even seem to manage their own.

The need to feel good from making others feel worse in reality is not only a weakness of character but perhaps even a deep character flaw and maybe even a “Personality Disorder”, given that encouragement not discouragement are well known to be key aspects of management and leadership, both associated with motivation and never, ever demotivation.

None of these traits are those which anyone would advocate in a leader. Yet time after time some or many of them are present, proving how frequently other people in society simply choose those with the wrong personality type for management or leadership of other people, either charmed or intimidated (or both) into appointing them before the gravity of this mistake in due course becomes more apparent. This is then compounded by the extent they will go to to maintain the power they should never gave been granted, having no qualms about damaging other people, their reputation and that of the organisation itself en route.

Yet such situations are entirely avoidable because at the end of the (excessively long) day the behaviour of Disordered Leaders and similar people in other roles throughout society is entirely predictable and can be seen to be so when others learn what traits to look for.

Indeed they provide invaluable assistance themselves, as psychologists refer to those with a variety of Personality Disorders as being “maladaptive”, meaning they struggle to change or adapt to different situations, so those most familiar with their words, deeds, actions and reactions can in almost every situation predict the predictable of those who are experts at denying the undeniable and defending the indefensible.

Indeed it is their very predictability that can be their downfall. The more that others learn what behavioural traits to look for, the better they can diminish the harm such people with a Personality Disorder can do when already in situ in roles of significant responsibility, or (preferably) deny such deeply irresponsible people the seniority of position they crave but, as they lack what is required to successfully carry out such roles prioritising both the entity and the people they are responsible for, they need to be denied the very opportunity to cause the damage they inevitably will and so prevent this becoming irreparable.

I refer to this as “IDENTIFY AND DENY” which may even need to be one of the managerial priorities of those others who really can and do care deeply for the organisation (or nation) and its people. The necessity for such a policy or practice may only be apparent to those who have already experienced the peculiarly different mindset of “Disordered Leaders”, given that the “Destructive Leadership” they ultimately provide is so far removed from that expected of responsible people that it will cause those who appointed them to doubt their own sanity for doing so.

While many people seek convergence by way of many forms of cooperation, bridge-building and peacemaking, a minority covertly seek divergence by way of many forms of competition, conflict and troublemaking, thriving on being difficult and irresponsible, preferring to oppose sensible paths to progress.

While many people take great pleasure in making others feel good, encouraging them and boosting their confidence and self-respect, there is also a minority in society who seem to derive great satisfaction from “putting down” and degrading others, thriving on discouragement, disrespect, deceit, distrust, instability, troublemaking and blame, disruption, disharmony and discord, disunity, havoc and mayhem, disagreement, conflict, control and chaos, intolerance, impatience and grudges, arrogance, meanness and tactlessness, many forms of negativity and unkindness, even subtle or overt cruelty including exclusion, denying people the opportunity to make their contribution to deliberations, all quite the opposite of that expected (a) of managers and leaders and (b) when any group of people join together to achieve some common purpose.

Yet global society continues to elect such people to seniority of position in its businesses and other entities, even to head its organisations and governments, often attracted by their (shallow) Charm, (apparent) Intelligence and (verbose) Eloquence, while somehow failing to appreciate what may in fact may be their true (disordered) nature, far more interested in themselves than those they are chosen to lead despite their (skilful) pretence at showing an interest in others including (insincere) flattery (when this most suits them), perhaps ignoring (quite apparent) warning signs when presented, as intimidatory (and even deceitful) traits are far too frequently associated with “dominance” and “strong leadership”, rather than potentially deep character flaws, such as (cold-hearted) deficiencies in key aspects of both humanity and leadership including emotional intelligence, empathy, harmony, guilt, remorse, conscience and integrity, ultimately (given their absolute necessity to “get their own way” and “win at all costs”) preferring “win-lose” to “win-win” and being competitive rather than collaborative, finding it easier to be cruel than kind.

They inhabit a different world which others need to understand and adapt to.

Until this is understood they will be misunderstood.

At its most basic their outlook is exceptionally self-centred (far more concerned with me than we or us) and this guides much of their behaviour. No matter how hard they try to mask their true inner coldness and exceptional self-belief, this surfaces when the opportunity arises, not always at the right time for the organisation.

Despite their other often significant abilities and talents, including Charm, Intelligence and Eloquence, this makes them highly inappropriate for roles which involve responsibility for other people, which is fundamentally just not their concern. No matter how well they pretend to be interested in other people, especially when this most suits them, they aren’t. And probably never will be.

Their response to situations can be so bizarre that this can leave observers so confused that they may have no idea how to respond themselves to their “emotional incontinence and lability”, until in due course observers begin to appreciate how repetitive and hence predictable their difficult behaviour can actually be. Yet as one of their greatest talents can be the ability to act normal, much of the time, especially until their self-interest is challenged, this can make them difficult to spot or properly understand.

With a great deal of patience and perseverance, over time the peacemakers can learn how to adapt their own behaviour accordingly to try and introduce a sense of calm to a wide variety of unnecessarily challenging situations, with the aim of denying the troublemakers the turbulence they insatiably seek, no matter the walk of life they inhabit and are encountered.

Life within and outside organisations would be so much easier if such people were not involved, especially in senior roles. But the only way to prevent them causing trouble in its many forms is to identify them in advance and then deny them the positions of power and influence which they crave but can innately eventually only abuse.

Because they are often inflexible and struggle to change the way they behave and react to similar situations (“maladaptive”), they actually can be identified. How? By way of their own, sometimes peculiar and often self-centred, behaviour.

A significant global problem though seems to be that too few people outside the arena of psychologists and psychiatrists quite seem to know what to look for to suggest “there might be something wrong here” and especially what “something” may be, possibly in extremis even a “personality disorder”.

A group intimidated into only doing what the dominant leader wants is unlikely to evolve, especially when “getting their own way” is very important to their leader.

If people are afraid to “speak up” and uninspired to suggest a variety of alternative ideas or courses of action, how likely is more visionary progress?

Given my own varied and mixed, but ultimately always unsatisfactory, experiences during my own career with over 300 organisations on all continents (bar Antarctica) with over 50 people possessing what I refer to as the “ICE Characteristics” of being Intelligent, Charming and Eloquent, but also quite irresponsible and deceitful, people I now describe as “Disordered Leaders”, I would propose that as such dangerous people may even threaten the long-term viability of the organisation itself, when erroneously employed in senior roles within the organisations and entities of global society they need to be considered and referred to as being a “viability liability”.

That is why at the 2019 US IVBEC business ethics conference I proposed that the steps the rest of society needs to take to protect itself from such leaders include:

  1. IDENTIFY these abnormal people, by way of their own “Destructive Leadership” behaviour, as being different from the norm,
  2. STOP them achieving positions of influence & responsibility throughout global society, or if already in situ
  3. LEARN how to behave differently towards them (“denying narcissistic supply”),
  4. ADAPT to (not) respond to their sometimes extraordinary actions & reactions (evident due to their “maladaptive” inflexibility), to
  5. MINIMISE the damage & havoc they will inevitably create and preferably replace them with far more responsible people who do meet the “Constructive Leadership” criteria, knowing they will “do whatever it takes” and go to any lengths to maintain the power they should never have been trusted with in the first place.

A starting point in eradicating the seditiously self-centred influence on society of people with potentially disordered personalities needs to be no longer associating charm with leadership potential and dictatorial traits with leadership ability, rather seeing through their “mask of normality” of surface level appeal in a quest for greater depths of genuine empathy and an authentic interest in both other people and indeed society itself.

Hence two conclusions or observations arising from this research are that:

“As far as leadership is concerned, all the intelligence in the world may be of no real value – if little or none of it is emotional.”

“Even after their organisation has collapsed, with many people’s lives adversely affected, they still cannot see what they may have done wrong.”

Fortunately there are many related behavioural traits which “selfish, difficult, proud, stubborn and perverse” people can display, especially when put under pressure or their self-interest is in any way challenged, amongst which are these 30 examples:

  1. They demand respect but deny it to others. Being disrespectful seems to give them a thrill, quite the opposite of leaders who inspire the achievements of their people by way of giving them their respect.
  2. Satisfying their own needs can be their primary, perhaps only, concern. Some savour being unkind and can derive a particular pleasure being disdainful of others. Their world revolves around themselves.
  3. They want everyone else to change to suit them but don’t seem to be capable of changing their own (“inflexible” and “maladaptive”) behaviour.
  4. At its most basic their outlook is me not we or us and this guides much of their behaviour. Until this is understood they will be misunderstood.
  5.  Their mindset is essentially quite different and others may only learn how to adapt their own behaviour to more adequately deal with them when they begin to better understand how their distorted mind operates.
  6. It should not be a surprise to hear them talking about doing the right thing one day then doing precisely the opposite the next, especially if doing so also happens to facilitate them achieving their own ambitions.
  7. Not known for reflection before speaking or acting, they can appear to behave in a rash and hasty manner. They can act spontaneously based on what seem to be impulses and whims, in a manner that many others would later regret, although for them any form of repentance can be rare.
  8. They require and seek praise (and even praise themselves when no-one else is) but, thriving on being discouraging and disliking being encouraging, find it hard to genuinely say “thanks” or “well done”.
  9. The extent of the positivity when relating stories of themselves and especially their talents and achievements can be so incredible, literally, that they defy belief. Yet this does not deter them from both appearing to believe these things themselves nor from broadcasting them to others, even if total fiction.
  10. They are constantly critical but overreact to anything they perceive to be criticism, even if not or none was intended.
  11. They damage trust when they lie, deceive, manipulate and seek to assassinate the character of those they believe to be opponents, often quite falsely.
  12. They actually seem to believe their own lies, deceit, perjuries, falsehoods and misinterpretations.
  13. They want others to do what they want, yet may themselves be incapable of taking advice.
  14. There is a significant disconnect between their words and deeds. To them, (shallow) words and (empty) promises are meaningless and un-heartfelt, lacking sincerity or association with genuine effort to follow them with appropriate or beneficial action.
  15. They want others to understand them for their idiosyncrasies but show little or no genuine interest in other people.
  16. They want others to forgive them for their errors but cannot say sorry when they are wrong, nor even seem to experience remorse.
  17. They want others to be grateful towards them but towards others have an attitude of ingratitude.
  18. They seem to forget what their true job responsibilities should be, or to whom, yet do not forget those people who they believe have wronged them.
  19. They hold deep grudges often for trivial reasons, not even satisfied by extracting severely disproportionate revenge.
  20. They can talk about “doing the right thing” but at key times their decisions and actions show that they just do what most satisfies them, especially if this disadvantages others.
  21. They prefer “winning at all costs” to “win-win outcomes”, so get a greater kick out of life when others are seen to lose.
  22. They prefer being disagreeable, competitive and combative so struggle to be agreeable, co-operative and collaborative, seeking victories not compromise.
  23. They perversely prefer to do the opposite of what others propose to be the most appropriate course of action.
  24. In due course their peers themselves learn to recommend the opposite of what they believe to be best, knowings its diametric will most likely be selected by their Disordered Leader, bringing some sense of order amidst the chaos, indeed in many respects quite the opposite of what people expect of those chosen to manage and lead organisations.
  25. They can be quite childlike – the most important thing in their lives can seem to be “getting their own way”.
  26. They may appear to be inconsistent, contradictory and perverse, but with greater familiarity can be seen to be entirely predictable.
  27. They are intolerant of other people’s errors but psychologists believe may be incapable of learning from their own prior experiences and mistakes – Groundhog Day.
  28. They know they should be interested in the people they are managing and leading but fundamentally are only capable of being interested in themselves.
  29. Their necessity to control can become quite uncontrollable.
  30. They can thrive on being spiteful, malicious, unforgiving and vindictive, holding grudges for many years for what may not have been more than a slight criticism or critique, which creates an environment in which others have to tread very carefully in what they say and do, given that even kindness towards them can be misinterpreted.

It is characteristics such as these which do not endear them to other people and make them highly inappropriate supervisors, managers or leaders of people in any walk of life.

Anyone who dares criticise them, no matter how constructively, is not likely to benefit from career progression. If they cannot adequately manage their own emotions in a generally positive manner, how can they be expected to show any responsibility for those of others or guide them positively and constructively?

They perceive other people as being there to serve them, the entity they lead becomes their personal plaything and the power they are trusted with they abuse to advantage themselves and (when it suits them) their sycophantic cronies, especially if this is seen to disadvantage others, including those they perceive to be opponents or threats, even if they are not and have simply dared suggest an alternative opinion or hold a different view on any matter.

Such traits do not augur well for any group of people properly discussing matters, debating alternatives and arriving at a course of action that will benefit many or most of the “stakeholders” involved or potentially impacted by the situation. Indeed society needs those well capable of love & incapable of hatred rather than those who are well capable of hatred & incapable of loving, anyone other than themselves, to take responsibility for its institutions and their people.

If “team-members” may be too scared – personally and professionally – to openly and adequately discuss matters and instead feel obliged (or even obligated) to only say and do what will please and satisfy their “disordered leader”, why bother with the pretence of having a “management team” at all?

Such dominant and domineering people are fundamentally untrustworthy and irresponsible, yet incredibly (meaning “hard to believe”) somehow (throughout history) we have continued to (mistakenly) trust them with positions of responsibility for other people, who ultimately they treat with disdain and contempt, because in their worldview they perceive themselves to be naturally superior and other people as being somewhat or significantly inferior to themselves.

 

Phineas Gage & the critical role of the prefrontal cortex

Two paragraphs from later in this draft paper say:

“As well as the amygdala, the regions believed to be part of the brain’s “fear circuitry” include the Insula and Orbital or Orbito Frontal Cortex (OFC).”

“Psychopathy is also closely associated with dysfunction in the Prefrontal Cortex (PFC), with the most commonly reported subregions being the ventromedial (vmPFC), orbitofrontal (OFC) and anterior cingulate cortex sectors (ACC), as well as the interaction of the PFC with other brain regions.”

Before we discuss matters such as these, as some of these brain regions are mentioned as playing a role in our discussions of many factors from basic emotions such as happiness and sadness, to fear and anxiety, decision-making, trust, empathy and moral reasoning, we should perhaps first consider what the role of the Prefrontal Cortex (PFC) is currently believed to be and how this understanding evolved from the time in the 19th century it was considered to play no useful role at all, other than as protection for what were considered to be the more important brain regions, perhaps not unlike the shell of a tortoise.

Before the advent of neuroimaging technology, which now permits medical practitioners and researchers to associate particular brain regions with specific actions of the mind and body, as well as its role in medical assessment, much was learned about the brain not only from working with healthy people but also those with various impairments and injuries, or “lesions”. This remains the case today.

Perhaps the most famous brain injury (and neuroscientific case study) in history was a penetrating head wound suffered by a rail road worker named Phineas Gage on September 13, 1848, when an explosion sent a metre long iron bar through his skull at high speed, entering at his left cheek and exiting through the top right of his head, going through the left front of his brain and destroying his eye. While Gage survived the experience, his personality changed from calm and responsible to irritable, disruptive and incapable of planning ahead.

Yet at the time the prevailing medical opinion was that the prefrontal cortex, behind the forehead, was a “non-functional” brain area, thought to play a protective role,with the name “cortex” derived from the Latin “corticea” meaning “bark” or “cork”.

Today it is often just referred to as “the cortex” and we know it to be one of the most critical areas, responsible for “executive function”, described by the American Psychological Association as:

“Higher level cognitive processes of planning, decision making, problem solving, action sequencing, task assignment and organisation, effortful and persistent goal pursuit, inhibition of competing impulses, flexibility in goal selection. and goal-conflict resolution. These often involve the use of language, judgment, abstraction and concept formation, and logic and reasoning. They are frequently associated with neural networks that include the frontal lobe, particularly the prefrontal cortex.” (APA)

The case of Phineas Gage has become an integral part of medical folklore with his accident still causing astonishment and curiosity. Indeed it is considered to be the case that most influenced and contributed to the nineteenth century’s neuropsychiatric discussion on the mind-brain relationship and brain topography, as prior to this case the prevailing thought was that what is now known as the Prefrontal Cortex were considered to be silent structures, without function and unrelated to human behaviour.

It was perhaps the first case to suggest the role of brain areas in determining personality and which specific parts of the brain, when affected, can induce specific mental changes.
In addition, his case contributed to the emergence of the scientific approaches that would later culminate in psychosurgery. Gage became an important element in studies of neurology, psychology and neuroscience, having unwittingly become one of the greatest medical curiosities of all time. (Teles Filho, 2020).

During the 1990s, Hanna Damasio and colleagues created a three- dimensional reconstruction of Gage’s brain and the injury caused by the tamping iron. Their image showed that the injury probably affected the ventromedial prefrontal region (vmPFC) of both hemispheres. The dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (dlPFC) remained in good condition in both hemispheres. (Damasio et al, 1994).

Gage’s case is considered to be one of the first examples of scientific evidence indicating that damage to the frontal lobes may alter personality, emotions and social interaction. (Macmillan, 2000).

At the time of his accident, Gage was the company’s most capable employee, considered to be highly responsible, with a well-balanced mind and a sense of leadership.
However the physical injury profoundly altered Gage’s personality and gradually this helped improve understanding of brain function. Indeed much has been learned not just from people with healthy brains, but also with “lesions” described by the APA as:

 
“any disruption of or damage to the normal structure or function of an organ or part of an organ due to injury, disease, or a surgical procedure.”(APA)

Given the significance of not only this extraordinarily influential case but also the role of the prefrontal cortex in human functioning, indeed in what makes us human and how neurological deficits can lead in some to what my research refers to as an absence of the essence of humanity, including compassion for others and an active social conscience, particularity noticeable when such people acquire leadership positions in society, in this section we will trace not only the Gage case but also how medical and scientific understanding of the prefrontal cortex developed over the last few centuries, very much aided by the published research of Alberto García-Molina (2012) and Ricardo Vieira Teles Filho (2020).

Although Gage’s memory, cognition and strength had not been altered, his once gentle personality slowly degraded. He became a man of bad and rude ways, disrespectful to colleagues and unable to accept advice. His plans for the future were abandoned and he proceeded without thinking about the consequences. (Steegmann, 1962).

Gage became irritable, irreverent, rude and profane, aspects that were not part of his prior way of being. His mind had changed radically. His transformation was so great that everyone said that “Gage is no longer himself.”(Barker, 1995)8.

Yet one of the key arguments of my research is that people of this innate personality type, now referred to as a “personality disorder”, continue to be trusted with supervisory, managerial and leadership roles throughout global society, with their intimidatory behaviour due to a “Leadership Fallacy” somehow mistakenly associated with strength of leadership rather than a fundamental character flaw.

With his gentle and responsible personality, Gage was trusted with the foreman role in his work group. When he lost this disposition and the ability to plan and consider the consequences of his decisions and actions arising from his accident, as a result of this personality change, he was fired for indiscipline and could no longer hold a steady job. He became a circus attraction and even tried life in Chile, later returning to the United States.

Yet we continue to choose people for leadership roles whose personality disorder prohibits them from properly evaluating the consequences of their decisions and acting in a responsible manner, causing others to consider “there’s something not quite right here”.

This is contributed to by considerable societal ignorance of what actually constitutes a personality disorder and how disordered people can be identified, preferably before but also after making the mistake of trusting amongst the most untrustworthy people possible with positions of responsibility throughout global society.

The previously calm and responsible Gage may have become tempestuous, untrustworthy and it would appear, impulsive, acting without properly evaluating the consequences, but there is another matter still little known about Gage.

His personality changes lasted for about four years, slowly reverting later. As a proof of this, he worked as a long-haul driver in Chile, a job that required considerable planning and focus skills. (Teles Filho, 2020).1

Alas for those who have no option but to work for people with a “Cluster B” personality disorder associated with behavioural traits not dissimilar to what Gage’s accident led his personality to become, the modern mental health profession including psychiatrists, psychiatric nurses, psychologists and psychoanalysts by and large have not yet developed treatments which have been deemed to be successful. Indeed those with such disorders are described as being “maladaptive”, with little likelihood of they becoming less self-centred, perverse and disagreeable and making life any easier for those in their inner circle.

Indeed in some cases, as we will discover, treatment can make them worse, teaching them how to be even more devious, manipulative and use other people to satisfy themselves and their self-interest, irrespective of the consequences for (a) other people, (b) the entity which employs them and (c) (extraordinarily) even themselves, who can sometimes even transpire to be the most damaged by their own irresponsibility and impulsivity.
Such situations they will nevertheless accept absolutely no responsibility for, blaming anyone and anything else for the the trouble they cause and create, even when doing so may seem impossible, which they will continue to create elsewhere if afforded the opportunity. Not only do they lack much of what constitutes a conscience, but they also possess the extraordinary inability to learn from their prior experiences, including their (many) mistakes.

That is what this research argues trusting those with the disposition of “Disordered Leaders” with any responsible role in society is – a mistake, perhaps the greatest the organisation, entity or even nation will ever make, not something others may immediately appreciate, as the damage such ICE-COLD people can cause may take some time to materialise.

They can also have considerable expertise at skilfully deflecting the blame elsewhere, including damaging the reputation of their critics and even having other people fired who may have done no wrong but see through their unemotional intelligence, spurious charisma and insincere eloquence, especially when they try to alert others to the dangers they covertly or overtly represent.

As those with a range of personality disorders do not walk in to the modern workplace with an iron rod or a hole in the side or top of through their head, they do have a deep hole in their soul, given their “shallow emotions” or lack of warm emotions including those associated with kindness, compassion and sympathy, also called “ruth”, which is one of the reasons why such ice-cold people may well be described by those who know them well as “ruth-less”.

For thirty years teaching business I have been asked “do you not have to be ruthless to be successful in business?” Much of this time I have responded that encouragement and cooperation usually achieves more than discouragement and unnecessary conflict and that the acknowledged role of the leader is to engage in social interaction to motivate people towards achieving whatever the common goals of their organisation may be, not intimidate and hence demotivate them nor engage in decisions designed to disadvantage or damage others especially when a more “win-win” rather than “win-lose” outcome may also be achievable from a more thorough evaluation of the options and likely consequences.

Now though with a better appreciation of the mindset and behaviour of those with a range of personality disorders and a (perhaps well masked) personality not unlike Phineas Gage, my response is quite brief:

It is not that people have to be ruthless to be “successful” in business, quite the opposite, rather that some who happen to be innately ruth-less, meaning lacking compassion, happen to be “successful” in business, with quite inevitable consequences.

Their “success” may be apparent in terms of position, title, influence and wealth, but they are unlikely to be deemed by their peers to be “successful” in terms of being trusted, liked or being considered to be a responsible team-player rather than an arrogant, proud, self-centred individual more concerned with self than the people or entity they mis-lead.

While some may argue that “being “liked” is not a prerequisite for a managerial or leadership role, the task of motivating others to achieve common goals is more likely to be achieved if people feel appreciated than not and respond better to leaders they like than dislike, doing what they are asked to do because they really want to do it and are fully committed to the task, rather than are ordered or even intimidated into doing so, which in time is likely to diminish their degree of commitment too. In such (unnecessary) scenarios and maybe even start to treat other people with disrespect themselves or seek more satisfactory employment elsewhere, where their talents and persona are likely to be better appreciated and respected, bringing out the best rather than worst in them.

Phineas Gage may have become “different” from what he was before, with a far more aggressive and less understanding personality, but those with one or more Personality Disorders can also different from societal norms and most “normal” people (defined later), sometimes significantly so, well capable of doing as much damage to the organisations which employ them and the lives of those unfortunate to work for them, as the iron rod did to Phineas Gage’s head, although not always in as apparent a manner.

As people with identifiable Personality Disorders can be “found in every race, culture, society and walk of life”, one of the most critical matters for global society to appreciate is that as “Disordered Leaders” who practice “Destructive Leadership” see things differently, experience people differently, perceive many matters differently, think differently, behave differently and inhabit a quite different world from most others in society, it is imperative that they be recognised by decision-makers as being substantially different from the norm, being consummate actors hiding their true selves much of the time, hence need to be dealt with significantly differently, including denying them positions of power which they can only abuse, if they are no longer to be permitted to continue to damage the potentially even more wonderful world that everyone else inhabits, which would be far safer, fairer, cooperative, just, harmonious, pleasant and simply much better off if it were exclusively led by those with the disposition of what this research refers to as “Constructive Leaders”, perhaps more like the responsible, likeable and trustworthy Phineas Gage before his accident.

No matter how well “Disordered Leaders” succeed in hiding their true inner coldness, often by way of (apparent) Intelligence, (shallow) Charm and (insincere) Eloquence (as their smart words are totally disconnected from promises or actions), their ICE-cold nature eventually surfaces when they or their self-interest is challenged.

Given that “getting their own way” and “winning at all costs” are their (covert) primary motivations in life, when these are in any way challenged their nature is so extraordinarily impulsive and their urge to “win” is so strong that observers may consider that they seem to have disengaged all other mental faculties and bypassed brain regions associated with rational decision-making.

This research describes their deep impulsivity as their “IPG-imperative”, appearing to cognitively ignore all other factors to achieve “Instantaneous Personal Gratification”, irrespective of the cost to or consequences for other people/stakeholders, the entity they mis-lead and (incredibly) even themselves, as they can transpire to be the most damaged by their impetuous desire to satisfy themselves, especially when this is at the expense of others.

Rational thought (if they ever possessed this faculty in the first place, which many who work with or for “Disordered Leaders” are given frequent “reason” to doubt), with their whims changing on a daily or hourly basis, appears to be totally suspended when they are suddenly afforded the opportunity to “get their own way”.

It would not be a surprise to those who have no option but to work with or for “Disordered Leaders” (or even those who observe the sometimes subtle or often highly apparent “bizarre” nature of their behaviour, words, actions, discussions, decisions and mis-deeds), to be informed that neuroscientists believe their brains differ from those of most other people in society, with some regions larger or smaller than typical and the huge number of connections between them somehow either disrupted, disengaged, bypassed or accelerated.

They can often be Intelligent, Charming and Eloquent, but eventually their intelligence can transpire to be misused when seen to prioritise achieving personal goals, their Charm like their emotions can be seen to be shallow and insincere, and their Eloquence be seen to be just that – smart words with no real connection with actions (past, present or future) – nor with any actual intention to do what they say they will, with commitments and promises quite meaningless and just as likely to change within the hour as their opinions, commands, whims and recollection of situations when these differ from others present.

A starting point in eradicating the seditiously self-centred influence on society of people with potentially disordered personalities needs to be no longer associating intelligence, charm and eloquence with leadership potential and domineering, dictatorial and arrogant traits with leadership ability, rather seeing through the “mask of normality” of purely surface level appeal they habitually wear to hide their true inner coldness, in a quest for greater depths of genuine empathy and an authentic interest in both other people and indeed society itself.

Amongst the key messages which this body of research proposes is that “smart words do not make for smart leadership when there is a deep and fundamental disconnect between words, actions and reality”, “society needs leaders with warm emotions who find it easy to love and impossible to hate rather than the most cold-hearted who find it easy to hate and impossible to love”, better at “making friends out of enemies than enemies out of friends”, and “as far as leadership is concerned, all the intelligence in the world may be of no real value if little or none of it is emotional.”

Evolution of the Phineas Gage tragedy and discovery

Twelve years after his injury, on the 21st of May, 1860 Phineas Gage died of an epileptic seizure that was almost certainly related to his brain injury. He was not submitted to an autopsy, but his mother, after exhumation of the body, donated his skull and iron rod at the request of Dr. Harlow, who, in turn, sometime later, donated them to Harvard University.

In 1868 the doctor whose care was primarily responsible him back to health, Dr John Martyn Harlow, gave an outline of Gage’s case history and first disclosed his remarkable personality change.

One might think this report would have assured Gage a permanent place in the annals of neurology, but this was not actually the case. There was a good reason for this neglect: hardly anyone knew about Harlow’s 1868 report.

A decade later, Dr. David Ferrier, an early proponent of the localisation of cerebral function, that different areas of the brain may be responsible for distinctly separate functions, rescued Gage from obscurity as he used the case as the highlight of his now famous 1878 Goulstonian lectures.

Gage had, through a tragic natural experiment, provided proof of what Ferrier’s studies had indicated – the pre-frontal cortex was not a “non-functional” brain area.
A rod going through the prefrontal cortex of Phineas Gage signalled the beginning of the quest to understand the enigmas of this fascinating region of the brain. (Garcia- Molina, 2012)

“(…) the powder exploded, carrying an iron instrument through his head an inch and a fourth in circumference, and three feet and eight inches in length, which he was using at the time. The iron entered on the side of his face, shattering the upper jaw, and passing back of the left eye, and out at the top of the head. The most singular circumstances connected with this melancholy affair is, that he was alive at two o’clock this afternoon, and in full possession of his reason, and free from pain.”


This brief news story, published in the Free Soil Union on 14 September 1848, is the first known description of the incredible accident suffered by Phineas Gage.

Gage, a 25-year-old railroad foreman, 1.70 m in height and weighing approximately 70 kg, was directing a group of men who were building the railway line between Rutland and Burlington in the state of Vermont in New England, USA.

Gage was the foreman or supervisor with the responsible role of directing a rock-splitting workgroup engaged in the clearing and levelling of the rocky terrain along the future “rail-road”.

The fateful accident took place on 13 September 1848, at 4:30pm, south of the town of Cavendish. As they had done many times before, Gage and his team drilled a deep hole in the rock, filled it with gunpowder, and packed it down with a tamping iron.

However, this time the friction of the rod against the rock produced a spark, which caused an explosion. The tamping iron was ejected with great force and hit Gage in the face.

The blast projected the metre-long bar, which was 3.2 cm in diameter and weighed about 6 kg, through his skull at high speed. The bar entered his left cheek, destroyed his eye, passed through the left front of the brain, and finally completely left his head at the top of the skull on the right side.

Gage was thrown on his back and had some brief convulsions, but a few minutes later he started to react and spoke, to his co-workers’ surprise, walked with a little help, and sat in an ox cart for the 1.2-km trip to his lodgings in the hotel run by Joseph Adams in Cavendish. (Hodges, 2001)

He got out of the cart on his own and sat down on the front steps. He was conscious and able to describe the circumstances of the accident to those present.

Edward Higginson Williams was the first doctor to arrive. Gage, who was seated on a chair, greeted him, saying 

“Doctor, here is business enough for you”.

An hour later, Dr John Martyn Harlow visited the house and under his medical care, Gage survived the accident.

Gage had lost a lot of blood, and his following days were quite difficult. The doctor’s first objective was to stop the significant haemorrhage caused by the iron rod and eliminate the bone fragments remaining in the wound. Harlow also facilitated drainage of the wound by elevating Gage’s head.

The wound though became infected, and Phineas was anemic and remained semicomatose for more than two weeks. He also developed a fungal infection in the exposed brain that needed to be surgically removed. His condition slowly improved after doses of calomel and beaver oil. By mid-November he was already walking around the city. (Guidotti, 2012).

For three weeks after the accident, the wound was treated by doctors. During this time, Gage was assisted by Dr. John Harlow, who covered the head wound and then reported the case in the Boston Medical Surgery Journal.

In the weeks that followed the accident, the main objective was to treat the infection that had developed in the injured region. Following the antiphlogistic (anti-inflammatory) principles of the early 19th century, Harlow used several emetic and cathartic agents (colchicum, rhubarb, mercury chloride, and others) in order to cleanse the organism of the “element” causing inflammation.

On 18 November 1848, 65 days after the accident, Gage’s condition showed clear signs of improvement; Harlow visited him for the last time in April 1849 and observed that his state of health was good.

More than 17 years would pass before Harlow had any news of Gage, when he would reconstruct the events that took place between the spring of 1849 and Gage’s death.
According to Gage’s mother, he had lived and worked in Valparaíso (Chile) for 8 years, but in June 1859 decided to return to the United States, and journeyed to San Francisco. In February 1860, Gage suffered what appeared to be the first of a series of convulsions. He died on 21 May 1860 as a result of one of those convulsions.

While many publications have reported the events (real or imagined) which took place on the day of the accident, there are few texts written by first-hand acquaintances of Phineas Gage.

The first example, written by Dr Harlow in November 1848, is a letter addressed to the editor of the Boston Medical and Surgical Journal in which he describes the circumstances surrounding the accident and the medical treatment which Gage received. (Harlow, 1848)

Two months later, in January 1849, the same journal published a note only 5 lines long which indicated that the patient’s physical and mental states were improving. (Harlow, 1849)

The extraordinary case of Gage was published in several newspapers and caught the interest of professor of surgery at Harvard Medical School, Henry Jacob Bigelow. Like many other doctors and scientists of that time, he was sceptical about the authenticity of the case described by Harlow.

In November 1849, Bigelow invited Harlow and Gage to Boston and introduced him to a meeting of the Boston Society for Medical Improvement. (Harlow, 1993).15
Between November 1849 and January 1850, Bigelow examined Gage in order to shed light on this “medical curiosity”.

The second text was published in the American Journal of the Medical Sciences by this young Boston doctor Bigelow, who began his article with a list of different statements testifying to the veracity of the case, knowing that it might be called into question. (Bigelow, 1850).

The third and last direct account of the extraordinary case of Phineas Gage was published two decades after the accident.

On 3 June 1868, Dr Harlow presented his case report at the annual meeting of the Massachusetts Medical Society, under the title of Recovery from the passage of an iron bar through the head.

Harlow described the accident, the circumstances, the medical treatment received by the patient, and the patient’s subsequent recovery. He also provided information about Gage’s life after the accident and until his death. This presentation was the first occasion on which Harlow described the behavioural changes which Gage underwent after the accident.

“The balance between his intellectual faculties and animal propensities, seems to have been destroyed. He is fitful, irreverent, indulging at times in the grossest profanity (…), manifesting but little deference for his fellows, impatient of restraint of advice when it conflicts with his desires, at times pertinaciously obstinate, yet capricious and vacillating, devising many plans of future operation, which are no sooner arranged than they are abandoned in turn for others appearing more feasible.” (Harlow, 1868:339–40).

After a favourable reception, the presentation was published the same year in Publications of the Massachusetts Medical Society.

One might think that this article would ensure Phineas Gage his place in the annals of neurology, but this was not the case. The journal of the Massachusetts Medical Society had a very low circulation, so Harlow’s article had little impact and was soon forgotten.

In 1878, the Phineas Gage case began to receive scrutiny.

Now, over a century and a half after the accident, his case is renowned among the scientific community. David Ferrier, one of the founders of English neurology (along with John J. Jackson, Richard Caton and William R. Gowers), won recognition for Harlow’s contribution with his lecture The localisation of cerebral diseases.

Perhaps in many areas of not only research, but life, when a matter becomes well accepted it may be taken quite for granted, even though it may have been controversial before “minds changed” and proponents of the radical new idea may have been criticised and even ostracised for “daring to be different”.

There is perhaps no better example than what is now known as the Prefrontal Cortex and the quite different roles for instance of its ventromedial (vmPFC) and dorsolateral (dlPFC) regions and how impairment can contribute to behaviour which many with justification may refer to as anti-social and including an inability to (a) properly consider what may the right or wrong thing to do in a specific situation, (b) properly evaluate the consequence for others, self and even an entire organisation or nation and (c) act accordingly in a responsible manner.

In 1868, 20 years after the accident, during his presentation to the Massachusetts Medical Society, Harlow stated that Gage’s lesion affected the best possible cerebral area in which to suffer injury, as the prevailing consensus was that the prefrontal cortex played a functionally negligible role.

As García-Molina wrote,

“although his comment seems surreal today, it reflects the concept of the prefrontal cortex that was dominant in the mid 19th century.”

The purpose of his own paper was not only to examine the case of Phineas Gage in its historical context and in the context of how the study of the neuroanatomical basis of mental activity has evolved, but also to examine the main changes and paradigm shifts that took place in knowledge of the prefrontal cortex between the 18th and 19th centuries.

We can now benefit from both powerful magnetic equipment and significant computing power to isolate specific brain regions which appear to be either active or inactive in specific circumstances, real, hypothetical and experimental, a technology which perhaps we may now ourselves take for granted.

However before we delve deeper into the complexities of specific brain regions, the myriad of connections between them and their impact on both normal and abnormal behaviour, especially within organisational life, maybe we too could benefit from an exploration how knowledge of the critical brain region called the Prefrontal Cortex or PFC has evolved over the last few centuries.

Doing so might allow us to both better appreciate not only modern technology and what may appear to be the prevailing level of knowledge, but also persuade us to keep an “open mind” on ideas, suggestions and propositions which may appear quite revolutionary or buck trends today, but which themselves may become the accepted consensus of tomorrow.

Franz Joseph Gall and brain physiology

The importance of the role the cerebral cortex plays in mental activity is now universally accepted. Nevertheless, despite the contributions of authors such as Thomas Willis (1621–1675) or Emanuel Swedenborg (1688–1772), this brain structure was thought to have no function in mental activity until the 19th century.

Rather, it was thought to play a protective role, as evidenced by its name “cortex”, from the Latin corticea [bark or cork]. The persistence of theories stating that brain activity takes place in the ventricular system meant that the cerebral cortex was considered a mere covering for the ventricles. (Manzoni, 1998).

It was not until the late 18th century that Franz Joseph Gall (1758–1828) linked the cerebral cortex to mental activity. Gall stated that the affective and intellectual faculties were located in the cerebral cortex. However, like his contemporaries, he still identified the striatum as the outermost limit for the motor nerve bundles, and the thalamus as the outermost limit for sensory endings.

Gall’s theory was that affective and intellectual faculties were located in specific regions of the cerebral cortex, and that there was a parallel between cortex development and the degree to which those faculties were expressed, as evidenced by a subject’s behaviour. He initially called his doctrine Schädellehre (doctrine of the skull) before changing it to Organologie, and last of all, physiologie de cerveau. Gall never accepted the terms ‘phrenology’, ‘craniology’, or ‘cranioscopy.’

Gall’s postulates were revolutionary in that they provided the basis for the physiological study of the central nervous system and division of the cerebral cortex into different functional areas.

Nevertheless, he soon found himself criticised by those in the academic, religious and political spheres. (Simpson, 2005).

The last Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, Francis II, published a decree in 1801 forbidding Gall from organising lectures and publishing manuscripts. This decree accused Gall of disseminating ideas contrary to morality and religion through his lectures.

However, in France, Napoleon I ordered the French naturalist George Cuvier (1769–1832) to organise a committee of experts from the Académie des Sciences to evaluate Gall’s theses. (Nofre i Mateo, 2006)

A key figure among these experts was Marie-Jean-Pierre Flourens (1794–1867). In contrast with Gall’s view of the cerebral cortex, Flourens held that this brain region was homogeneous and functioned as a whole. Between 1820 and 1840, Flourens surgically removed different parts of the brain in various animals, especially pigeons.

Although he observed a degree of correspondence between the location of the lesion and loss of specific brain functions, the effects of destroying cerebral tissue were generally diffuse. On this basis, he concluded that all regions in the cerebral cortex took part in higher mental functions by acting as a single unit. (Tizard, 1959)

Flourens’ thesis was quickly accepted by the scientific community and remained the dominant paradigm well into the second part of the 19th century. Despite the differences between the two scholars’ views about the functional organisation of the cerebral cortex, Gall and Flourens both agreed that this brain structure played an important role in mental activity, replacing the theory that the cerebral cortex played only a protective function.
David Ferrier, Phineas Gage and the functional organisation of the cerebral cortex

In 1848, when Phineas Gage suffered his accident, the cerebral cortex was still considered a homogeneous structure with no differentiated functions. However advances in the neuroanatomical understanding of this brain structure, together with detailed descriptions of symptoms in neurological patients, gradually changed the view of the cerebral cortex which Flourens had propounded.

At the beginning of the 19th century, neuroanatomical knowledge of the cerebral cortex was limited. In 1807, François Chaussier divided the cerebral surface into 4 lobes: frontal, parietal, temporal, and occipital. The same author devised the terms ‘frontal’, ‘temporal’, and ‘occipital’ to refer to the anterior, medial-inferior and posterior areas of the brain, respectively. (Finger, 1994).

It was not until the mid 19th century that the brain convolutions would be described as they are today. Broca’s contributions and Fritsch and Hitzing’s experiments on brain excitability were particularly important to the study of brain function.

In 1861, Paul Broca (1824–1880) presented the findings from post-mortem anatomical studies carried out on 2 patients who had suffered significant loss of expressive language. In both cases, anatomical studies showed a localised lesion in the third convolution of the left frontal lobe.

This was the first evidence to be accepted by the scientific community which showed the link between a cognitive function and a specific area of the cerebral cortex.

The studies on brain excitability published in 1870 by Gustav Theodor Fritsch (1838–1927) and Eduard Hitzing (1838–1907) constituted a new attack on Flourens’ paradigm,which proposed that the cerebral cortex was equipotential (meaning exhibited uniform potential throughout) and had nothing to do with motor functions.

Fritsch and Hitzing showed that electric stimulation of the frontal cortex in several species of mammals caused specific muscle groups to contract. This finding demonstrated the presence of independent cerebral regions which are responsible for specific functions. (Finger, 1994; Taylor & Gross, 2003).

At a time when the the frontal lobes were considered to be silent structures, without function and unrelated to human behaviour, Scottish neurologist, David Ferrier (1843–1928) was influenced by Fritsch and Hitzing’s studies and motivated to investigate the role of frontal lobes in brain function.

Ferrier removed the frontal lobes in monkeys and noted that there were no major physiological changes, but the character and behaviour of the animals were altered. (Macmillan, 1996).

Knowledge that the frontal lobe was involved with emotions continued to be studied. The surgeon Burkhardt in 1894 performed a series of surgeries in which he selectively destroyed the frontal lobes of several patients in whom he thought might control psychotic symptoms, being the modern prototype of what was later known through Egas Moniz as psychosurgery. (Macmillan, 1996).

Ferrier’s own aim in systematically examining the cerebral cortex in different vertebrates was to confirm his colleague John Hughlings Jackson’s hypotheses regarding “cortical localisation”.

Based on clinical observations in epileptic patients, John Hughlings Jackson had postulated that sensory and motor functions are represented in the cerebral cortex in an organised and localised way.

Ferrier created a precise map of motor and sensory functions in the cortex by damaging cerebral tissue and stimulating the brain using alternating current. In 1876, he published the results in his book The Functions of the Brain. One of his main findings was obtained by surgically removing a large part of the prefrontal cortex in three monkeys. None of them showed changes in their sensory, motor or perceptual processes. Ferrier established a parallel between these findings and observations of human beings with massive frontal lobe lesions.

The story of Phineas Gage is one of the cases Ferrier mentioned as an example of the limited functional consequences of frontal lobe lesions. Shortly thereafter, on 15 March 1878, Ferrier presented The localisation of cerebral diseases as part of the Gulstonian Lectures, which were organised by the Royal College of Physicians. (Ferrier, 1878)

In his presentation, Ferrier put forth his ideas regarding the link between specific cortical areas and specific functions, and stated that results obtained through animal experiments could be useful in diagnosing and treating neurological patients.

In the section titled Lesions of the frontal lobes, Ferrier referred once again to the Phineas Gage case to illustrate the symptoms that result from lesions in this brain region. On this occasion, however, he stated that Gage suffered from behavioural changes as a result of the lesions he suffered in the accident.

What happened between the publication of The Functions of the Brain and the presentation of The localisation of cerebral diseases?

Why did Ferrier change his mind so radically about the Phineas Gage case in only two years?

In 1876, when The Functions of the Brain was published, Harlow (1848) and Bigelow (1850) were Ferrier’s sources of information for the Gage case. None of them at that time described behavioural changes in Gage after the accident. In fact, Bigelow concluded that even though a substantial part of Gage’s brain was destroyed, he only experienced vision loss in the left eye, and his mental faculties appeared not to have been affected.

Ferrier had probably heard of Harlow’s article (1868) through secondary sources. In The Functions of the Brain he stated that Gage died 12 years after the accident, which coincides with that reported by Harlow (1868). However, Ferrier probably did not have direct access to the book in which Harlow described the behavioural changes suffered by Gage as a result of the unfortunate accident.

On 12 October 1877, he wrote to Henry Pickering Bowditch, professor of physiology at Harvard University, to request further information regarding the location of Gage’s lesions caused by the tamping iron. (Macmillan, 1992).

The French neurologist Eugene Dupuy opined that Gage did not experience any language disorders in spite of suffering “total destruction” of the left frontal lobe, clearly demonstrating the equipotentiality (uniform potential throughout) of the cerebral cortex.

In 1868, Bowditch sent Ferrier a facsimile of the article published by Harlow. At a later date, Ferrier contacted Harlow to ask him for a copy of the texts he used to prepare his presentation before the Massachusetts Medical Society. Ferrier used them for his 1878 lecture The localisation of cerebral diseases.

Why did Dr. Harlow omit part of the information about Gage’s case?

Why did he not present the full report until 1868?

Whatever led him to conceal Gage’s changes in behaviour?

Macmillan offers 2 possible explanations (Macmillan, 2000). The theories about brain function which were dominant in 1848 would not have given credit to the reality which Harlow described in 1868. Changes in our understanding of brain function which were introduced between 1848 and 1868 permitted Harlow to describe Gage’s case in more detail.

The second of Macmillan’s explanations suggests that Harlow concealed Gage’s behavioural changes for ethical reasons. Harlow might have refrained from describing Phineas Gage in such a negative light while he was still alive, as he did not die until 12 years after his accident.

Aside from Macmillan’s explanations, Harlow may also have omitted details of the case to allow for publication of a more detailed article at a later time, as Harlow’s first description of Gage was not a published article, but rather a letter sent to the editor of the Boston Medical and Surgical Journal. 

In the closing of this letter, Harlow indicated that he had reserved some information which would be featured in a future communication. This delay in publishing the information would also have an impact on the study of the prefrontal cortex. Due to this delay, descriptions of the Phineas Gage case provided by Harlow (1848) and Bigelow (1850) were used until the early 1870s to describe the prefrontal cortex as functionally negligible.

David Ferrier’s revival of the Phineas Gage case helped change this perspective.

In 1868, during his presentation before the Massachusetts Medical Society, Harlow stated that Gage’s lesion affected the best possible cerebral area in which to suffer injury.

Although his comment seems surreal today, it reflects the concept of the prefrontal cortex that was dominant in the mid 19th century.

These ideas stem from texts such as those written by Sir Percivall Pott (1713–1788), the eminent 18th century English surgeon. (Macmillan, 1986),

After observing the effects of contusions in the anterior (meaning situated before or toward the front) part of the brain, Pott wrote that lesions beneath the frontal bone have less severe consequences than those located in any other part of the brain. Systematic study of the cerebral cortex, beginning in the second half of the 19th century, made it possible to refute such beliefs and study this brain structure in depth. In 1854, Louis Pierre Gratiolet described the convolutions and fissures of the cerebral cortex. (Pearce, 2006).

In 1866, William Turner defined the fissure of Rolando as the posterior (meaning situated behind, caudal or dorsal) limit of the frontal lobe.

Two years later, Richard Owen subdivided the region along the anterior limits of the motor cortex into the following areas: superfrontal, midfrontal, subfrontal, ectofrontal and prefrontal. He was the first to use the term ‘prefrontal’. (Divac, 1988).

One direct impact of differentiating the regions of the cerebral cortex was that it became possible to run clinical studies comparing the effects of lesions located in different cortical regions, therefore enabling correlations between structures and their functions.

Hanna Damasio and colleagues during the 1990s created a three- dimensional reconstruction of Gage’s brain after the tamping iron injury. Their image suggested that the injury probably affected the ventromedial prefrontal region of both hemispheres but that the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex remained in good condition in both hemispheres (Damasio et al, 1994).

As we will see this is very much in line with the modern interpretation of both of these critically important regions, relevant for behaviour and “executive function” including decision-making and moral reasoning, and when impaired can contribute to anti-social behaviour and sub-optimal moral reasoning.

In 2004, the radiology team at Hospital Brigham and Women’s in Boston created a new reconstruction showing that lesions were limited to the left frontal lobe. The ventricular system and the vital vascular structures were not affected. (Ratiu et al, 2004).

Gage had – inadvertently – made a significant contribution to neurology in several areas, including the study of brain configuration in behavioural disorders, the development of psychosurgery and the study of brain rehabilitation.

Gage’s case also had a tremendous influence on early neuropsychiatry. The specific changes observed in his behaviour pointed to theories about the localisation of brain function and the related cognitive and behavioural consequences, thereby contributing to what is now acknowledged to be the role of the frontal cortex in higher-order actions including reasoning, behaviour and social cognition.

In those interim years, while neuropsychiatry was in its infancy, Gage’s extraordinary story served as one of the first pillars of evidence that the frontal lobe is very much involved in personality and there was much to be learned about normal brain functioning from those with various forms of lesions.

Between the time when the Phineas Gage case was published and the present day, many researchers have tried to solve the mysteries of the prefrontal cortex, while the complex idiosyncrasies of this enigmatic brain region have made this area of study a challenging one.

As Hans-Lukas Teuber stated in his seminal article The Riddle of Frontal Lobe Function in Man:

“Man’s frontal lobes have always presented problems that seemed to exceed those encountered in studying other regions of his brain… There certainly is no other cerebral structure in which lesions can produce such a wide range of symptoms, from cruel alterations in character to mild changes in mood that seem to become undetectable in a year or two after the lesion.” (Teuber. 1964).

Fortunately neuroscientific progress has contributed substantially to our knowledge of the different structures of the prefrontal cortex and the role they play in behaviour modulation.

Understanding the link between the prefrontal cortex and its processes allows us to shed light not only on the enigmas of the prefrontal cortex, but also the enigmatic, puzzling and damaging behaviour associated with those with damage to or impaired functioning of this critically important region of the brain, so necessary for human functioning and indeed contributing to the very essence of humanity.

Unlike Phinea’s Gage’s visible deformity, those with a Personality Disorder may be less apparent but are nevertheless identifiable, by way of what they struggle to change, their own “maladaptive” behaviour, well capable of being damaging, which as far as management and leadership is concerned, makes prevention preferable to the improbability of cure.

Those lacking the core essence of humanity need to be denied the opportunity to allow their fundamental inhumanity and deep self-centredness to negatively impact the lives of others, no matter the arena, nation, “race, culture, society or walk of life”.

 

Neuroscience of Basic Emotions

Before we explore how our brains appear to engage in moral reasoning, with neuroscientists suggesting that empathy appears to play a key role, as well as how those with impaired brains including  a range of Personality Disorders also appear to be impaired in the ability to engage in moral reasoning, perhaps we should consider how the normal brain appears  to deal with the basic, core emotions, as well as how it imagines future situations based on past experiences and our perception of the present, or “mental simulation”.

Emotion is a kind of mental state that occurs at almost all times across life. Despite the critical importance of emotions in our lives, there is currently no scientific consensus on a definition about what emotion is (Gu et al., 2015).

Controversy still abounds over the definition of emotions and even the number of emotions that exist. Fehr and Russell (1984) wrote that “everyone knows what an emotions is, until asked to give a definition. Then, it seems no one knows” (Fehr and Russell, 1984).

There is some agreement that emotions are internal states that are evoked by comparison between the internal bodily needs and the available external materials, and are characterised by induced physiological changes, behavioural and cognitive changes (Sroufe, 1996; Wang, 2018).

However, emotions themselves are neither physiological changes nor behavioural changes, because emotions can be separated from behavioural changes, with some people for instance strong at self-control and others quite impulsive. For instance, many people can hold back fighting behaviours even though they are angry (Wang, 2018).

Feelings are mental experiences of body states. They signify physiological need (for example, hunger), tissue injury (for example, pain), optimal function (for example, well-being), threats to the organism (for example, fear or anger) or specific social interactions (for example, compassion, gratitude or love). Feelings constitute a crucial component of the mechanisms of life regulation, from simple to complex. Their neural substrates can be found at all levels of the nervous system, from individual neurons to subcortical nuclei and cortical regions. (Damasio and Carvalho, 2013).

Darwin was the first to use facial expressions in emotional studies, such as fear, anger, joy or sadness. Later, behaviourists tried to study behaviours using emotion induced physiological changes, such as saliva in Palov’s dog and other behaviour changes by Skinner’s pigeon at a reward or punishment.

However there remains no consensus as to the exact number of core, basic emotions, which all human emotions are composed of (e.g., fear, anger, joy, sadness) which are considered to be more elementary than others, being related to our basic biological needs (Lindquist and Barrett, 2012; Colombetti, 2014; An et al., 2017).

Many psychologists have proposed that disgust and surprise are basic emotions, such as Ekman and Plutchik.

Ekman (1992) for instance proposed six basic emotions: happiness, anger, sadness, fear, disgust and surprise, while Izard (2007) proposed seven basic emotions: fear, anger, happiness, sadness, disgust, interest and contempt.

More recent research by way of facial expression studies and neural mechanism studies suggest four basic emotions: fear, anger, joy, and sadness (Jack et al., 2014; Gu et al., 2016, 2018; Zheng et al., 2016).

Researchers though have suggested that each emotion has its own dedicated neural circuitry that is architecturally distinct (Ekman, 1992; Russell, 2006; Barrett and Russell, 2015; Scarantino, 2015).

fMRI studies offer a good opportunity to study the underlying brain mechanisms for basic emotions,, and these neuroimaging studies found some specific loci in the brain work for basic emotions, while other regions are generally involved in emotion perception, valuation or regulation (Phan et al., 2002; Lindquist et al., 2012, 2013b).

Happiness

Happiness is one of the human resources that an individual can pursuit in his life. The psychological study of happiness defined two different conceptions of happiness: hedonic happiness and eudaimonic happiness (Berridge and Kringelbach, 2011).

Hedonic happiness is what we feel during the experience of intense physical or psychological pleasure, while eudaimonic happiness is what we feel when we reach our personal goals or when we have expressed our potential, our abilities, or to be who we really are (Berridge and Kringelbach, 2011).

Indeed, imagination of happy events from both kinds, compared to the imagination of neutral events, activates the ventral prefrontal cortex (including orbitofrontal cortex, OFC)

The prefrontal cortex seems to be essential for the control and organisation of behaviour. The human orbitofrontal cortex is a highly heterogeneous brain region that encompasses many different functions, including as a nexus for sensory integration, modulation of visceral reactions, and participation in learning, prediction and decision making for emotional and reward-related behaviours.

Hedonic experience is arguably at the heart of what makes us human. In neuroimaging studies of the cortical networks that mediate hedonic experience in the human brain, the orbitofrontal cortex has emerged as the strongest candidate for linking food and other types of reward to hedonic experience.

The orbitofrontal cortex has been proposed to be involved in sensory integration, in representing the affective value of reinforcers, and in decision making and expectation. The human orbitofrontal cortex has been found to represent not only the reward value and expected reward value of foods and other reinforcers, but also their subjective pleasantness. The implicit reward value appears to be assigned early on in the hierarchy for each type of reinforcer, with a further progression up the processing hierarchy (reflecting the effects of combinations of stimuli) towards areas that are connected to brain regions necessary for conscious hedonic processing. (Kringelbach, 2005).

In a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) experiment, Rolls et al. (2008) found that activations in the ventral prefrontal cortex, the cingulate cortex, and the ventral striatum were associated with the positive hedonic state, depending on the correlations between the ratings of the participants on pleasantness with the blood-oxygen-level dependent (BOLD) signal.

Many subsequent studies have provided evidence for the primordial role played by these areas in hedonic valuation (Rolls et al., 2008; Grabenhorst and Rolls, 2011).

There is little controversy regarding the involvement of the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC)  in evaluating subjective happiness and hedonic value (Abler et al., 2005).

However, it is still uncertain whether these frontal regions can cause pleasure, and data from lobotomised patients do not indicate a total loss of pleasure; on the contrary, some patients showed euphoria, impulsiveness and general disinhibition.

Disinhibition is a lack of restraint manifested in disregard of social conventions, impulsivity and poor risk assessment. It refers to the diminution or loss of the normal control exerted by the cerebral cortex, resulting in poorly controlled or poorly restrained emotions or actions including aggressive outbursts. Disinhibition may be due to the effects of alcohol, drugs, or brain injury, particularly to the frontal lobes.

Similarly, Beer et al. (2003) demonstrated the performance of good humour and self-satisfaction in patients with orbitofrontal damage. These data suggest that the OFC could be more important in transforming pleasure stimuli into their cognitive representations (Burke et al., 2007, 2008, 2009; Takahashi et al., 2009).

There are also some reports about the differences between hedonic and eudaimonic happiness; where hedonic pleasure was positively correlated with functional connectivity of the bilateral ventral medial prefrontal cortex, while eudaimonic pleasure was shown to be related to the bilateral precuneus (Luo et al., 2017).

In addition, it has been found that ventral striatum activation during eudaimonic decisions predicted longitudinal declines in depressive symptoms, whereas, ventral striatum activation to hedonic decisions were related to longitudinal increases in depressive symptoms (Telzer et al., 2014).

The mesolimbic dopaminergic system has been considered to be able to cause pleasure (Yokel and Wise, 1975; Wise and Rompre, 1989; Wise, 2004, 2006, 2008, 2013). Even though it is hard to visualise the ventral tegmental area (VTA) with fMRI, due to its lacking clear anatomical borders (Trutti et al., 2019), there are some fMRI studies that report the activities of the VTA in the reward and happiness (Krebs et al., 2011).

In addition, some reports suggest that the  VTA responses correlated with romantic love scores and inclusion of other in the self (Acevedo et al., 2012; Xu et al., 2012). VTA is the origin of the mesolimbic dopaminergic system, which projects and releases dopamine to the locus coeruleus, prefrontal cortex and anterior cingulate cortex, and it is responsible for the cognitive effects of positive emotion.

Sadness

Sadness is an emotion that is indicative of loss and helplessness (Motoki and Sugiura, 2018), or it is related to a failure to get something wanted (reward), or punishment by being given harmful things (Gu et al., 2016).

The anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) is related to sadness (Godlewska et al., 2018; Ramirez-Mahaluf et al., 2018a,b). The reason for the ACC being responsible for sadness might be due to the fact that it is the brain side which induces the vocalization for the crying response, which is supported by neuroimaging studies.

In addition, it is also linked to sadness because of its role in suffering; many studies have suggested ACC is also implicated in pain or the suffering feeling and depression (Taylor et al., 2018). Therefore, the ACC would appear to be the primary location for frustration, punishment, regret or failure to cope with the situation (Abler et al., 2005).

The lateral orbitofrontal area is also involved in unpleasant stimuli, and it is reported that activations in the lateral parts of the orbitofrontal cortex were related to the negative hedonic value.

At one stage it was though the amygdala processed fear but not other emotions, especially negative, until further studies suggested it also played a role in processing other negative emotions, especially sadness (Schmolck & Squire, 2001) although this finding does not demonstrate the amygdala’s involvement in perception of sadness specifically, it nonetheless suggests that abnormal processing related to the emotion sadness may be a feature of amygdala dysfunction, in the same way that fear conditioning, phobias and fear recognition all depend on the amygdala. (Adolphs & Tranel, 2004).

Then studies began to find amygdala activation (compared with neutral faces) when viewing expressions of fear, anger, sadness, or happiness (Yang et al., 2002), challenging the notion that the amygdala is specialised to only process expressions of fear.

A study involving people with bilateral amygdala damage showed a specific impairment in rating sad faces, but performed normally in rating happy faces.(Adolphs & Tranel, 2004).

This confirmed prior researcher that subjects with bilateral amygdala damage confused emotions and attributed incorrect emotions to a variety of facial expressions, thought to contribute to the “shallow emotions” particularly associated with psychopathy. (Sato et al., 2002; Schmolck & Squire, 2001).

Fear

The amygdala is an important limbic structure that has been associated with fear (Anthony et al., 2014; Isosaka et al., 2015; Reynaud et al., 2015; Han et al., 2017). Many fMRI studies support the hypothesis that the amygdala is the most important hub in a fear reaction (LeDoux, 1998).

Several aspects of fear processing have been attributed to the amygdala, including fear conditioning (Davis, 1992; LeDoux, 2007), initiation of fear-induced behaviours in response to stressors (Weiskrantz, 1956; Blanchard and Blanchard, 1972; Prather et al., 2001; Machado et al., 2009), and memory creation of fear-related stimuli (Cahill et al., 1995; Hamann, 2001).

Many of the earlier findings arose from studies involving monkeys, the same source that led to an understanding of mirror neurons, which play a key role in empathy.

The importance of the amygdala in initiating the fear emotion and fear-related behaviours has been well described by studying amygdala damage in non-human animals, in which decreased fear-related behaviours have been observed with poor amygdala function (Weiskrantz, 1956; Blanchard and Blanchard, 1972; Prather et al., 2001; Izquierdo et al., 2005; Machado et al., 2009).

In addition, clinical observations of a well-characterised human case of bilateral amygdala damage has confirmed that the amygdala is the location of fear (Feinstein et al., 2011).

However, many studies have found that the amygdala is involved with many other negative emotions too, such as stress or anger (Siep et al., 2018), which might be due to the emotion flow: fear emotion is transient and can induce several other emotions, such as anger (Zheng et al., 2016).

Animals under the influence of fear try to flight away from the threat, however, they will defend themselves, usually aggressively, when flight is impossible or difficult (Papini et al., 2018). This kind of “fight or flight” behaviour or “fear and anger” emotion usually happens interchangeably (Zheng et al., 2016).

Anger

The orbitofrontal cortex (OFC) is considered to be the primary location for anger, with many fMRI studies suggesting that the interaction between the orbitofrontal cortex and amygdala is involved in the regulation of anger (Coccaro et al., 2007; Fulwiler et al., 2012). It is reported that hyperactivity of the interaction between amygdala and orbitofrontal cortex is involved in the altered fear/anger processing at stressful situations (Reynaud et al., 2015).

However, some findings also show a hypo (under) activation in the orbitofrontal cortex (OFC) and the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), but strong activity in amygdala (Fulwiler et al., 2012; Siep et al., 2018). A meta-analysis study confirmed enhanced activation in the left amygdala to angry stimuli (Bertsch et al., 2018; Krauch et al., 2018).

These controversies might be due to the fact that amygdala activity is related to initiation of fear, while activation of the orbitofrontal cortex is involved in the fear extinction (Milad and Rauch, 2007; Siep et al., 2018).

Fear extinction is sure to induce anger, which confirmed a previous report that “fight or flight” behaviour or “fear and anger” emotion usually happens interchangeably, or that anger is the vent for fear and fear leads to anger (Gu et al., 2016).

Disgust

The emotion of disgust is typically experienced as a feeling of revulsion elicited by offensive stimulations – e.g., bodily fluids and waste, animal products, rotten food and certain classes of behaviour, accompanied by a strong desire to get rid of the eliciting stimulus (Oaten et al., 2018a,b).

The insula has been proposed as the seat of disgust processing, which is considered to be distinguishable from other emotive responses – e.g., fear (Wicker et al., 2003), and anger (Wicker et al., 2003; Felmingham et al., 2008; Williams and Bargh, 2008; Koritnik et al., 2009).

Yet a meta-analysis of imaging data found that the anterior insula is not more active during disgust than other emotions, such as anger (Wager et al., 2007; Oaten et al., 2018a,b).

Indeed, disgust in moral situations often induces anger, which suggests that any investigation of the neural correlates of disgust also include the anger related neural network.

This is also supported by past studies that report the words “disgust” and “disgusted” evoke feelings associated with anger-related concepts (Oaten et al., 2018a,b), and this is consistent with the report that disgust and anger might be the same type of basic emotion (Jack et al., 2014).

Surprise

The surprise emotion alerts the individual of any deviations from expectations, regardless of the outcome value (Litt et al., 2011; Fouragnan et al., 2018).

The surprise system works as an attentional mechanism that enables an organism to focus its limited energy on the most salient stimuli, activating dopamine neurons (Matsumoto and Hikosaka, 2009), the prefrontal cortex (Park et al., 2010) including the orbitofrontal cortex also associated with anger (Kahnt et al., 2010).

The surprise system can also monitor unexpected information and help plan appropriate behavioural adjustments (Fouragnan et al., 2018). According to meta-analyses of fMRI studies, surprise induced brain regions are predominantly subcortical, including the amygdala and striatum, as well as some cortical regions, such as the ventromedial prefrontal cortex and the cingulate cortex(Behrens et al., 2009; Bartra et al., 2013).

One of the key issues in how we react to situations involving choices is the subjective value (SV) of choice alternatives leading to a decision, involving alternatives being placed on a common scale to facilitate value-maximising choice.

A meta-analysis of 206 published fMRI studies investigating the neural correlates of SV found two general patterns of SV-correlated brain responses.

In one set of regions, BOTH positive and negative effects of SV on BOLD arose in areas including the anterior insula, dorsomedial prefrontal cortex, dorsal and posterior striatum, and thalamus.

In a second set of areas, including the ventromedial prefrontal cortex and anterior ventral striatum, positive effects predominate, both when a decision is confronted and when an outcome is delivered, as well as for both monetary and primary rewards.

These regions appear to constitute a “valuation system,” carrying a domain-general SV signal and potentially contributing to value-based decision making. (Bartra et al., 2013).

This is consistent with the accumulated imaging evidence, which suggests that the amygdala also plays a key role in the processing of novel stimuli.

The amygdala and hippocampus have been found to be sensitive to novelty, however, two types of novelty can be distinguished – stimuli that are ordinary, but novel in the current context, and stimuli that are unusual.

Using functional magnetic resonance imaging, Blackford et al examined blood oxygen dependent level (BOLD) response of the human amygdala and hippocampus to novel, commonly seen objects versus novel unusual objects.

When presented with the novel common stimuli, the BOLD signal increased significantly in both the amygdala and hippocampus,

However, for the novel unusual stimuli, only the amygdala showed an increased response compared to the novel common stimuli, suggesting that the amygdala is distinctly responsive to novel unusual stimuli, making a unique contribution to the novelty detection circuit. (Blackford et al., 2010)2,

Research also suggests that surprise and fear might be the same basic emotions (Jack et al., 2014).3

Specific loci for specific emotions

So there is strong evidence from neuroimaging research that specific loci are responsible for specific emotions, such as the amygdala for fear (Ohman, 2005), ventromedial frontal cortex for happiness (Abler et al., 2005), anterior cingulate cortex for sadness (Motoki and Sugiura, 2018), orbitofrontal cortex for anger (Murphy et al., 2003) and the insula for disgust (Wicker et al., 2003)5.

Anger and disgust can induce similar facial expressions, with “disgust” and “disgusted” evoking feelings associated with anger-related concepts, and both disgust and anger can activate the insula.

Similarly, fear and surprise also activate similar brain loci, such as the amygdala, and surprise can induce ventromedial prefrontal cortex and the cingulate cortex, because happiness can also be involved with surprise.

As far as the field of business ethics is concerned, as we will discover, many of these brain regions are also considered to play an active role not only in moral reasoning and more routine decision making, but also related matters including trust and empathy, which neuroscientists believe to be a key element of how our brains actually engage in the task of moral reasoning, including moral imagination and prospection.

Neuroscience of Simulation or Imagination of the Future 

In one key aspect the human brain differs from the animal brain.

All animals can predict the hedonic consequences of events they’ve experienced before. But humans can predict the hedonic consequences of events they’ve never experienced by simulating those events in their minds, described as “prospection“, as it is this ability which allows to consider future situations and possible outcomes.

Just as retrospection refers to our ability to re- experience the past, prospection refers to our ability to “pre-experience” the future by simulating it in our minds. Scientists are beginning to understand how the brain simulates future events, how it uses those simulations to predict an event’s hedonic consequences, and why these predictions so often go awry.

The brain combines incoming information with stored information to build “mental representations,” or internal models, of the external world. The mental representation of a past event is a memory, the mental representation of a present event is a perception, and the mental representation of a future event is a simulation.

Mental simulation is the means by which the brain discovers what it already knows. When faced with decisions about future events, the frontal cortex generates simulations, briefly tricking subcortical systems into believing that those events are unfolding in the present and then taking note of the feelings these systems produce.

The frontal cortex is interested in feelings because they encode the wisdom that our species has acquired over millennia about the adaptive significance of the events we are perceiving.

Actually experiencing and perceiving a threat such as being with a wild animal is a potentially expensive way to learn about its adaptive significance, so evolution has provided us with a method for getting this information in advance of the encounter.

When we preview the future and prefeel its consequences, we are soliciting advice from our ancestors. This method is ingenious but imperfect. The frontal cortex attempts to trick the rest of the brain by impersonating a sensory system. It simulates future events to find out what subcortical structures know, but try as it might, the cortex cannot generate simulations that have all the richness and reality of genuine perceptions.

Its simulations are deficient because they are based on a small number of memories, which omit large numbers of features, which do not sustain themselves over time, and which lack context.

Compared to sensory perceptions, mental simulations are mere cardboard cut-outs of reality. They are convincing enough to elicit brief hedonic reactions from subcortical systems, but because they differ from perceptions in such fundamental ways, the reactions they elicit may differ as well. Although prospection allows us to navigate time in a way that no other animal can, we still see more than we foresaw.

Memories are the building blocks of mental simulations, so particularly good or bad memories of a matter can impact on our simulation and hence future decision-making, as can when we are feeling in a good or bad mood when considering the matter and arriving at a decision, so our prefeelings may contribute to accurate or inaccurate predictions and hence more or less reliable decision-making.

Errors in prospection can arise when our simulations are unrepresentative or decontextualised, or our briefly summarised memory of those kind of situations are more or less favourable than others may have of similar events, or the brain regions which play a role in this process are considered to be impaired, whether by accident, mental illness or personality disorder, all of which impact on our ability to engage in accurate decision-making for the future based partially on past experiences, the present environment and our evaluation of the situation, which may of course as a consequence differ from those of any others who may be engaged in the same process with us.

So with one way of predicting the possible consequences of a future event being to simulate it, the brain’s frontal regions appear to play a critical role in that process of simulation. (Wheeler et al, 1997; Fellows et al 2005; Ingvar 1985).

Patients with damage to the pre-frontal cortex are described as being “bound to present stimuli” (Melges, 1990) and “locked into immediate space and time” (Faglioni, 1999).

Such patients seem unable to simulate future events and often have difficulty answering simple questions such as “What will you be doing tomorrow?” (Tulving et al, 1988; Tulving, 1985; Klein et al, 2002).

Neuroimaging studies reveal that both the prefrontal cortex and the medial temporal lobes are strongly activated by prospection (Schacter et al, 2007; Addis et al, 2007; Szpunar et al, 2007).

Interestingly, these regions are part of the “default network” that is active when people are not specifically engaged in other tasks (Raichle et al, 2001)12, which suggests that when the mind is not busy perceiving the present it tends to simulate the future (Buckner et al, 2007).

When thinking about the future or the upcoming actions of another person, we mentally project ourselves into that alternative situation. Research suggests that envisioning the future (prospection), remembering the past (memory), conceiving the viewpoint of others (theory of mind) and possibly some forms of navigation reflect the workings of the same core brain network.

These abilities emerge at a similar age and share a common functional anatomy that includes frontal and medial temporal systems that are traditionally associated with planning, episodic memory and default (passive) cognitive states. (Buckner et al, 2007)1.

People mentally simulate future events, but how do they use those simulations to predict the event’s hedonic consequences? People use their immediate hedonic reactions to simulations as predictors of the hedonic reactions they are likely to have when the events they are simulating actually come about.

Simulations allow people to “preview” events and to “prefeel” the pleasures and pains those events will produce.

A great deal has been learned in the past few years about the neural substrates of prefeeling. For example, it appears that the activity of mid-brain dopamine neurons encodes information about the magnitude of pleasure that a future event is likely to produce (Schultz et al, 1997; Berridge et al, 1998).

Dopamine neurons of the ventral tegmental area (VTA) and substantia nigra have long been identified with the processing of rewarding stimuli. These neurons send their axons to brain structures involved in motivation and goal-directed behaviour, such as the striatum, nucleus accumbens and frontal cortex. Multiple lines of evidence support the idea that these neurons construct and distribute information about rewarding events. (Schultz et al, 1997).1

Simulation of pleasurable future events activates subcortical structures such as the nucleus accumbens (Knutson et al, 2005)16 and the anterior regions of the ventral striatum (Yacubian et al, 2006)17, whereas simulation of painful future events activates the amygdala (Seymour et al, 2007)18 and/or the posterior ventral striatum (Yacubian et al, 2006).

Anticipated reward magnitude and probability comprise dual components of expected value (EV), a cornerstone of economic and psychological theory. Although the subcortical nucleus accumbens (NAcc) activated proportional to anticipated gain magnitude, the cortical medial prefrontal cortex (MPFC) additionally activated according to anticipated gain probability. (Knutson et al, 2005)

Midbrain dopaminergic neurons projecting to the ventral striatum code for reward magnitude and probability during reward anticipation and then indicate the difference between actual and predicted outcome.

However the ventral striatum only appears to represent the gain-related part of Expected Value (EV+). With the loss-related expected value (EV−) and the associated prediction error represented in the amygdala. Thus it would appear that the ventral striatum and the amygdala distinctively process the value of a prediction and subsequently compute a prediction error respectively for gains and losses. (Yacubian et al, 2006)2

Modern economic theory tends to ignores the influence of emotions on decision-making, with people being assumed to be far more rational than they transpire to be in actual decision-making

However neuroscientific evidence suggests that sound and rational decision making may actually depend on prior accurate emotional processing.

The somatic marker hypothesis proposed by Bechara & Damasio (2005) provides a systems-level neuroanatomical and cognitive framework for decision-making and its influence by emotion.

The key idea of their hypothesis is that decision-making is a process that is influenced by “marker signals” that arise in bioregulatory processes, including those that express themselves in emotions and feelings. This influence can occur at multiple levels of operation, some of which occur consciously, and some of which occur non-consciously.

The somatic marker hypothesis is a neural model for economic decisions, in which emotions are a major factor in the interaction between environmental conditions and human decision processes, with these emotional systems behind emotions and feelings – past present and even future (pre-feelings) – providing valuable implicit or explicit knowledge for making fast and advantageous decisions.

An extensive body of research shows that prefeeling depends critically on the ventromedial prefrontal cortex and that people with damage to this area find it difficult to predict the hedonic consequences of future events (Bechara & Damasio, 2005).

Although there is still much to learn about its neural substrates, prefeeling clearly provides a basis for making future predictions. (Gilbert & Wilson, 2007).

 

Moral Decisions – Real and Hypothetical

Fortunately amongst the many matters that psychological, including neuroscientific, research has been able to shed a better light on, have been (a) the neurobiological foundations of moral reasoning, (b) how the brain of those with a personality disorder may differ from the norm and (c) how the brain regions which would appear to be impaired in “Disordered Leaders” closely overlap with those considered to be activated or not when non-impaired people engage in moral reasoning.

What is perhaps remarkable as far as the field of business ethics is concerned, is the similarity in brain regions which are considered to play an active role not only in moral reasoning as well as more routine decision making, but also related matters including trust and empathy, considered by neuroscientists to be a key element of how our brains engage in moral reasoning.

One challenge facing all manners of research has been replicating “real world” situations in the “experimental” arena.

Research for instance suggests that different neural mechanisms are involved with real and hypothetical moral decisions (Feldman Hall et al, 2012), with hypothetical moral decisions mapping closely onto the “imagination network”, while real moral decisions elicited activity in the bilateral amygdala and anterior cingulate cortex, areas essential for social and affective processes, as suggested by this typical paragraph from a neuroscientific paper:

Significant activation in the posterior cingulate cortex (PCC), bilateral hippocampus and posterior parietal lobe, all regions essential in imagination and prospection (Schacter et al., 2007), were greater for hypothetical moral decisions. Applying a priori ROIs derived from research on the brain’s construction system (Hassabis and Maguire, 2009) revealed a remarkably shared neural system with hypothetical moral decisions. Additional a priori ROIs drawn from the moral literature, medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) and dorsolateral PFC (dlPFC) (Greene et al., 2001) also showed greater activation for imagined moral choices. Parameter estimates of the beta values for these ROIs confirmed that these regions were more sensitive to hypothetical moral decisions, relative to real moral decisions.

In contrast, activation in the bilateral ventral temporoparietal junction TPJ [BA 37], bilateral amygdala, putamen and anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) were more active for real moral decisions. (Feldman Hall et al, 2012).

Over a century ago a German anatomist Korbinian Brodmann divided the brain into many different regions predominantly based on the different type of neurons found in each. Much of his work published in 1909 has stood the test of time, with many regions subsequently renamed or subdivided as further knowledge became available, with others still also referred to by his numbering system, such as BA 37.

For instance, some suggest that the Brodmann’s Area 25 within the sACC is unique and could be considered a separate region. with an unusual aspect being the presence of “Von Economo” or  “Spindle cell neurons” found only in the cingulate (pACC and MCC) and insular cortices, part of the “mirror neuron system” associated with empathy.

With around 86 billion neurons in the human brain, the extraordinary multitude of connections between them is hard to quantify.  Neurons are “nerve cells” with special structures that allow them to send signals rapidly and precisely to other cells in the form of electrochemical impulses traveling along thin fibres called axons, which can be directly transmitted to neighbouring cells through electrical synapses or cause chemicals called neurotransmitters to be released at chemical synapses. 

Some of these make up identifiable pathways, the under or over (hypo or hyper) activation of which, or surplus or deficit in transmission of various neurotransmitters, have become associated with various illnesses or disabilities, facilitating research to find more effective treatments, with genes also considered to play a role.

The complexity of this lightning-quick system of connections is such that, despite rapid advances in neuroimaging, it is only at a quite high level and indirectly that brain regions are seen to become more active (or just as important, remain inactive) and certainly far from capable of being measured at the level of activation of the individual neuron.

Functional magnetic resonance imaging (or fMRI) has become the diagnostic tool of choice for learning how a normal, diseased or injured brain is working, as well as for assessing the potential risks of surgery or other “invasive” treatments of not only the brain but all other areas of the human body too, from sports injuries to malfunctioning parts of the body.

fMRI is a noninvasive, or surface level technique which looks in on the body from the outside. Unlike x-rays, it doesn’t involve radiation, rather uses a powerful magnetic field, radio waves and a computer to produce detailed images of internal body structures, 

It is used to examine the brain’s “functional anatomy”, determining which parts of the brain appear to be handling critical functions. It can also evaluate the effects of stroke or other disease, or guide brain treatment, as fMRI may detect abnormalities within the brain that cannot be located with other imaging techniques.

Functional “magnetic resonance” imaging uses “MR” imaging to measure the tiny changes in blood flow that take place in an active part of the brain, measuring the small changes in blood flow that occur with brain activity.

BOLD or Blood Oxygenation Level Dependent imaging is the standard technique used to generate images in functional MRI and fMRI studies, relying on regional differences in cerebral blood flow and minute changes in oxygen levels to delineate regional activity.

There are limitations associated with this method of imaging. Cerebral blood flow (CBF) is only an indirect marker of brain region activity, with the smallest unit of brain that is able to have its blood flow individually regulated in the order of millimetres in diameter, with a lag of 2-6 seconds.

While it is remarkable what has been achieved by way of fMRI imaging over the last few decades, there is so much yet to be explored about human behaviour and the neural underpinnings in both the typical brain and those of people with illnesses including “personality disorders”.

Nevertheless at a macro level neuroscientists and psychologists have been able to “map” various behaviours onto the activation or non-activation of various brain regions with some success.

Although individual neuroscientific research projects can produce different findings, often due to parameters and differences in the research methods and hypotheses chosen, a reasonable degree of conformity has arisen, even if some of the reasons, primary and secondary, for activation or non-activation of specific brain regions continues to be researched and debated amongst the psychological and neuroscientific community.

As already mentioned, as far as business ethics is concerned, the brain regions considered to play an active role in both moral reasoning and more routine decision making are very similar to those engaged when deciding who to trust or not as well as the empathy required for normal, sympathetic, “ruthful” and compassionate everyday human interaction, with feelings (or not) for others and any pain or distress they may be experiencing now or could experience in the future considered by neuroscientists to to be a key element of how our brains engage in moral reasoning.

An absence of these abilities or qualities has been described as “ruth-less”, which some believe to be an important ingredient in business “success”. It isn’t, as many (often unsung) businesses when led by “Constructive Leaders” achieve success without having to resort to counterproductively cruel treatment of others. Indeed those who take excessive risks without proper evaluation of the consequences, or downside potential of their actions, can not only be “unsuccessful” but even see the entities they mis-lead lose their reputation and even fail completely (as I argued in an article entitled “Trust Reputation, Integrity and Professionalism” published by Accountancy Ireland in 2007).

As people generally respond better to encouragement than discouragement and being treated fairly and with respect, rather than being disrespected and even humiliated (which this research closely associates with “Disordered Leadership”, partially arising from a lack of empathy and “ruth” or sympathy for others), it is NOT that ruthlessness is “required” to be successful in business, rather that some people who happen to be inherently “ruth-less” happen to achieve personal “success” in terms of financial reward or high position held, but do not set the right example (cruelty over kindness) for the next generation and are more likely to be feared rather than respected by those unfortunate to work with or for them, which triggers quite the wrong neurological response.

Ruthlessness Required?

It took me over 25 years in industry to begin to understand the behaviour of the most selfish, difficult and perverse people I had met, or encountered, during my career. So I feel a responsibility to share what I have learned to diminish the harm such people can do, both to other people and the organisations which employ them, neither of which are their concern no matter how well they try to pretend that they are.

One of my ambitions is to suggest how others can first identify them and then deal with the myriad of predominantly unfair, unjust and unethical challenges they invariably present, as ultimately they innately prefer conflict, disruption, disloyalty, disorder and disharmony to co-operation and harmonious collaboration as they prioritise “getting their own way at all costs” over all other considerations.

As they are “found in every race, culture, society and walk of life”, one of the most critical matters I hope to discuss in this book is an appreciation that as such people see things differently, think differently, experience life’s situations differently and behave quite differently from most others in society, they need to be be recognised as being different and hence dealt with substantially differently.

A starting point in eradicating the seditiously self-centred influence on society of people with potentially disordered personalities needs to be no longer associating intelligence, charm and eloquence with leadership potential and domineering, dictatorial and arrogant traits with leadership ability, rather seeing through the “mask of normality” of purely surface level appeal they habitually wear to hide their true inner coldness, in a quest for greater depths of genuine empathy and an authentic interest in both other people and indeed society itself.

One of the key messages which this body of research proposes is that “as far as leadership is concerned, all the intelligence in the world may be of no real value if little or none of it is emotional.”

Despite being exceptionally fortunate to have worked with a wide range of wonderful people in over 300 businesses on all continents, bar Antarctica, I am even more grateful for the opportunity to teach business for over 30 years, as I have learned so much from the undergraduates, postgraduates, entrepreneurs and executives, perhaps far more than I have ever imparted to them during our discussions about the intriguing and fascinating world of business and indeed life in many types of organisations.

When discussing management, especially with integrity, one question has often been posed, especially by undergraduates: “do you not have to be ruthless to be successful in business?”

This invariably leads to a discussion on the purpose of business, often citing Peter Drucker’s assertion that this was “to create and retain a customer”, and how this can best be achieved, especially by way of co-operation or conflict. We discuss what is meant by “success in business”, including whether this is purely in terms of position, power and wealth, or whether being respected, appreciated and trusted also plays a role in terms of being perceived by self or judged by others to be “successful”.

Amongst the questions I pose are “would you do business with someone you do not trust?” and we discuss whether trustworthy or untrustworthy behaviour is most likely to “create and retain a customer”. Above all we discuss what precisely is achieved by being ruthless and cruel, who is best satisfied by behaving in such a manner and whether people are likely to be inspired to produce their best when they are bullied and intimidated by others, in any walk of life.

Invariably we agree that bullying in its many forms is counterproductive, yet year after year I am consistently asked “do you not have to be ruthless to be successful in business?”.

This made me ponder why this perception persists, both amongst business people and people who have not themselves worked in business, and what it is about the nature of conducting business that makes some associate “success” with ruthlessness.

My experience has been that the people who behaved in a ruthless manner towards me – or perhaps I should say the “ruthless people” I encountered in business – failed to inspire me to perform near my best or even want to conduct any more business with them, or provide any more work for their organisation, which I invariably chose not to do when (as a self-employed management consultant) in the fortunate position of being able to take this decision.

If I could no longer trust or respect the people I was working with or for, I had the option of moving on when the next opportunity arose, as indeed I have done throughout my career.

Likewise when I was treated disrespectfully as a consumer, I also instead choose organisations which provided similar products or services in a more acceptable manner, more conducive to desiring a longer term relationship rather than a purely one-off trade.

I often wondered did such challenging people not realise that being arrogant and intimidatory was more likely to scare people off than persuade them to want to come back for more of whatever their business sold or organisation provided?

When those who had behaved badly towards me subsequently apologised, this sometimes strengthened our relationship and increased our respect for each other, because even the very best of people can behave badly and do wrong, notably when under undue pressure, which can be a significant feature of business.

Pressure can of course be due to situations which may be unavoidable, which can be the real test of the skills talents and teamwork of all involved as they seek to deal with the situation as astutely as possible in the circumstances, coloured by the priorities and mindset of the decision-makers.

Pressure however can also arise from the (unnecessarily) unfair behaviour of other people, as some seek to dominate others and instead of boosting their confidence seek to erode their self-respect, surely the opposite behaviour expected of those tasked with supervising, managing and leading other people in any grouping in society.

Despite this, intimidatory people seem to frequently be chosen for seniority of position, although clearly being “takers” far more interested in themselves than others than “givers” more interested in others than themselves”.

The Leadership Fallacy

Oscar Wilde wrote:“Conscience is the trade name of the firm.”i With some leaders appearing to have a more active conscience than others, when the extremely self-centred traits associated with society’s most “illegitimate leaders” are examined, it could transpire they may not be capable of moral reasoning beyond the “pre-conventional” level of self-interest which prioritises achieving their own desires, associated by Kohlberg with primary school children, if at all.

Could it be that for some business and societal leaders, irrespective of nationality, race or gender, self-interest is not an option they willingly choose, rather is their prevailing state of mind?

What are the implications for society if some such people managing and even leading organisations and nations may be incapable of reasoning morally beyond the stage associated with primary school children, and are mistakenly chosen for leadership roles when they lack the fundamental ability to manage their own emotions let alone accept responsibility for the welfare of those they are tasked with leading, their organisation and its role in society?

Perhaps throughout history, society would appear to have mistaken charm, intelligence, arrogance and even callous ruthlessness for “managerial ability” due to what I refer to as a “leadership fallacy” associated with appointing highly self-centred people to leadership positions, consistently mistaking outwardly dynamic displays of confidence and eloquent talk of integrity for strength of character and intimidatory traits for strength of leadership, when in reality such fundamentally weak and perhaps childlike people may possess neither good character nor genuine managerial or leadership ability.

Talking the talk is no substitute for actually being capable of walking the walk. Indeed in their case there may be a deep disconnect between their talk and their deeds, not dissimilar to a fallacy which is “a false or mistaken idea”, including that due to “a disconnect between the proof and the conclusion.”ii

A fallacy has also been described as “faulty reasoning” or “a mistaken belief, especially one based on unsound arguments.” Likewise, a fallacy has been associated with a “delusion”, or “an idiosyncratic belief or impression maintained, despite being contradicted by reality or rational argument, typically as a symptom of mental disorder”, which this book will associate with “disordered leaders”, including those who display “delusions of grandeur”, being “a false impression of one’s own importance”. This book argues that as such people perceive the world and behave differently from others, they need to be dealt with quite differently. Delusion in turn is also associated with both deception and demeaning, also traits which “disordered leaders” perhaps innately display, consummate liars adept at hiding their true traits, much of the time until they or their self-interest is challenged, while also treating other people with deep disrespect, quite the opposite of the behaviour expected of leaders.

The “leadership fallacy”, which this book proposes results in the wrong people, indeed perhaps those with the least appropriate personalities, being chosen for seniority of position throughout global society, is also likely to result in integrity challenges, as the interests of other people let alone wider society and matters of ethics and morality are just not on the personal radar of people secretly or more overtly obsessed with themselves.
Their greatest talent can be their ability to frequently hide their total lack of consideration for the interests and needs of others and their necessity to dominate, control and damage them emotionally.

Too many in society appear unaware what day-to day behavioural traits (of 400) self-centred leaders display, particularly those capable of being diagnosed with any of a range of “Personality Disorders”, notably Cluster B including Narcissistic.

Those with “a chronic, inflexible, maladaptive pattern of perceiving, thinking and behaving that seriously impairs an individual’s ability to function in social or other settings” should be disqualified from becoming leaders of both other people and societal organisations

Recognising specific behavioural traits could assist diminish the negative impact such challenging people can have on the lives of others, within and outside global organisations, especially those who innately prefer competition, conflict and combative disharmony to teamwork and peaceful co-operation, naturally thriving on troublemaking and fearful dissonance.

Despite the problems such people create throughout society from impaired relationships and damaged reputations to business failures, chaos and even wars, which throughout history they may not only have started but then perpetuated, being troublemakers not peacemakers, the concept of Personality Disorders needs to become more widely appreciated to better understand “difficult” people and their initially bizarre, but in due course entirely predictable behaviour, to sufficiently realise that their motivations differ from those of most “normal” people.

A first step is to identify these abnormal people, by way of their own behaviour, as being different from the norm, then both denying them seniority of position and adapting to respond to their sometimes extraordinary actions and reactions, given their inflexibility and probable inability to alter these themselves, hence learning how to behave differently towards them (“denying narcissistic supply”), with a view to minimising the damage and perhaps havoc they will inevitably create, oblivious to the consequences, especially when they lead our organisations and even nations.

Until intimidatory traits, erroneously believed to be necessary rather than inappropriate implements in the toolkit of respected leaders, become associated with disordered management, this leadership fallacy, which may have blighted global society for generations, will continue to the detriment of interpersonal trust and the reputation of the entities who appointed them, before they may subsequently be given sufficient reason to doubt their own sanity for choosing them.

The innate priority of such disordered people can, at its most basic, be simply described as “getting their own way, irrespective of the cost to other people or their organisation.”

To them, lacking concern for anything, but themselves, such matters are inconsequential and mere collateral damage en route to satisfying their insatiable personal goals.

Even after their organisation has collapsed with many people’s lives adversely affected, these emotionally labile individuals, because that is what they are, not team-players, can still wonder what they did wrong, blaming everyone else for their failings.

Appreciating that their conscience-free mind may be disordered, thinking distorted and emotional depth shallow, could be a critical first step on the road to progress, otherwise a frustratingly fruitless exercise. Any attempts at trying to deal with them “normally” may well be doomed to failure.

While many people can behave in a selfish, difficult, proud and contrary manner occasionally, especially under extreme pressure, to be classified as a “Personality Disorder” the traits need to be “inflexible”, meaning can be repeatedly observed without regards to time, place or circumstance, while also interfering with a person’s ability to function well in society, including causing problems with interpersonal relationships, termed “functional impairment”.

Indeed the four core features common to all Personality Disorders are (a) distorted thinking patterns, (b) problematic emotional responses, (c) over- or under-regulated impulse control and (d) interpersonal difficulties, none of which are attributes which society needs in those with responsibility for its institutions and their people.

Yet far too frequently some or all of these are evident in the behaviour of leaders, erroneously associated with strength of character and leadership, rather than weakness of character and an inability to manage their own emotions let alone lead other people

A group intimidated into only doing what the dominant leader wants is unlikely to evolve, especially when “getting their own way” is very important to their leader. If people are afraid to “speak up” and uninspired to suggest a variety of alternative ideas or courses of action, how likely is more visionary progress? At the end of the day “Disordered Leaders” demotivate and discourage people from producing their best. They may even want to bring out the worst in others as they try to turn people against each other rather than engender teamwork and co-operation.

With dictionaries associating “ruth” with “sympathy”, this made me wonder were “ruth-less” people innately incapable of being sympathetic to others as they seemed to derive a peculiar pleasure making other people feel uncomfortable, belittled, disrespected and maybe even humiliated. For what purpose and to what avail? Surely such behaviour is counterproductive and unlikely to contribute to the mutual respect required for successful and trusting “team-building”?

The Merriam-Webster dictionary, for instance, defines “ruth” as both “compassion for the misery of another” and “sorrow for one’s own faults”, which it also associates with “remorse”. That dictionary also describes “ruthless” as “having no pity” which it also associates with “merciless” and “cruel”.

It also defines “empathy” as “the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner” as well as “the capacity for this”.

Those who consider and select people for senior positions throughout not only business but also wider society need to better associate selfish, difficult, proud, arrogant, challenging, disagreeable, discouraging, fearful, intimidatory and perhaps contrary traits with irresponsible, illegitimate and self-centred leadership and deny such negative, regressive and destructive people the power they crave, but can inevitably misuse and abuse, while also becoming more appreciative of more selfless, co-operative, modest and agreeable attributes, including genuine kindness and bona fide charisma, while increasingly associating such positive, progressive and constructive traits with a greater likelihood of such people providing responsible, legitimate and selfless leadership.

101 Questions

Amongst the many matters this body of research considers include:

1. Are some leaders too proud or intoxicated by their pursuit of power to recognise a responsibility to other people and indeed society? Or is the problem with the most unethical leaders a far deeper one?
2. Why do some leaders seem to prefer cooperation to competition while others engender highly competitive corporate cultures?
3. Should we be considering the possibility that some business and societal leaders may not be capable of “recognising wrong” and there may be “something wrong” with them?
4. Surely everyone has the capacity to be “sensitive to the feelings, thoughts and experience” of other people?
5. Surely everyone has the capacity to feel “sorrow for one’s own faults”, or “remorse” for actions which cause distress to others?
6. Surely everyone has a conscience and is capable of both adequately differentiating right from wrong and behaving accordingly?
7. Surely everyone has the ability to weigh up the interests and needs of others and sometimes choose this over their self-interest when most appropriate?
8. Surely everyone has the capacity to learn from their prior mistakes and hence adapt their future behavior or do some people in society suffer from an inability to learn from their prior experiences and hence keep repeating their errors?
9. Surely everyone is capable of telling the truth and keeping their promises, even if on occasions they don’t?
10. Surely everyone is capable of behaving in a trustworthy manner?
11. Surely everyone is capable of acknowledging responsibility for both their decisions and the outcomes, without resorting to blaming others for their failures?
12. Surely everyone is capable of both “talking the talk” and “walking the walk” or do some people in society suffer from a deep disconnect between their talk and their deeds?
13. Surely everyone is capable of the self-control required to manage their own emotions in the company of others, or at least most of the time?
14. If not, are such people fit and proper to be trusted with responsibility for the lives and emotions of others, when they cannot even adequately handle their own emotions?
15. Are such people fit and proper to lead the entities and organisations of our societies and even our nations themselves?
16. Should we not prefer as leaders of society givers more interested in others than themselves, with a genuine interest in both other people and the welfare of society itself, who can be better trusted to manage and lead the organisations and entities of our society, especially when compared with the flawed character, over-confidence, thinly-veiled arrogance, troublemaking and dangerous deceit associated with self-centred, emotionally deficient, difficult, disloyal and proud takers, being more fundamentally interested in themselves than others?
17. What is a “disordered leader”?
18. How can other people learn how to adapt their own behaviour to better deal with the myriad of challenges such people typically and persistently present, across many walks of life?
19. How should other people behave in the company of “disordered leaders” to diminish the harm they can do both to other people and the very entity they are mistakenly chosen to lead? How can other people best learn to predict how disordered leaders may respond to a variety of situations to allow those not so afflicted to adapt how they themselves behave and react to what initially may seem like the extraordinary, even bizarre and often extremely self-centred behaviour of life’s most difficult people, which may actually transpire to be entirely predictable?
20. While many leaders appreciate the benefits of fairplay and internal harmony, what is it about the personality of others which result in their actually thriving on disharmony and even deceit between colleagues?
21. How can we identify such people for what they really are – cold-hearted, unemotional, lacking in conscience, kindness, empathy and remorse, totally disinterested in the interests and needs of others and exclusively interested in themselves?
22. What is a “personality disorder” and are such people capable of what is required when trusted with responsibility for the lives of others in the many organisations of our societies?
23. What can we do to diminish the harm and even havoc which disordered people, perhaps inevitably, eventually bring to whatever situations they are involved in?
24. What are the implications for managerial practices should organisational colleagues be recognised as displaying traits associated with personality disorders?
25. How can we learn from our mistakes from appointing such people to seniority of position in society so we can avoid repeating them?
26. How do such people hide their true traits from others? ICE or Intelligence, Charm and Eloquence?
27. What is “ruth”? Is ruthlessness really required to be successful in business and indeed any way of life? Or is it just that we continue to elect fundamentally ruthless people to senior roles, especially in business and government but also as leaders of religious, educational and sporting bodies in society? Indeed is there any area of society which does not feature such people in senior roles?
28. How can other people learn what behavioural traits to look for to deny such people senior roles in society?
29. What can we learn from such people to make us appreciate quite the opposite traits in others, fortunately the vast majority of people?
30. What is “the business ethics fallacy” that makes us believe everyone is capable of “moral reasoning”, the ability to tell right from wrong and behave accordingly?
31. What is “the leadership fallacy” associated with appointing highly self-centred people to leadership positions, consistently mistaking outwardly dynamic displays of confidence and talk of integrity for strength of character and intimidatory traits for strength of leadership, when in reality such fundamentally weak and perhaps childlike people may possess neither.
32. What kind of personal characteristics should we instead be looking for in those we trust to manage and lead the organisations, entities and nations of global society?
33. What lessons can be learned from studying such “moral exemplars” and aspects of the field of ‘positive psychology’ as it relates to business leadership and management?
34. Does ethical discussion of business operate under the assumption that all business people actually possess a conscience, whether they avail of it in challenging situations or not?
35. Are some executives so naturally focused on themselves that they insufficiently recognise the interests of others and the key importance of wider factors including trust and reputation?
36. Why do some leaders fail to appreciate the relationship between lack of ethics and high profile business failures?
37. Do the ethical qualities displayed by organisations led by “givers” more interested in the needs of their colleagues than themselves differ from those associated with organisations led by “takers” more interested in themselves than their colleagues or the organisation at large?
38. Could ethical failures be due to some leaders displaying what psychologists term ‘consistent irresponsibility’, capable of routinely acting against the common good and doing so with ’emotional impunity’?
39. Could the personality of some leaders result in their actually thriving on disharmony and even deceit between colleagues?
40. What is the role of emotional deficits including the inability to experience either empathy or remorse in contributing to unethical behaviour?
41. If we consider the most difficult people we have worked with, whether in industry or academia or other walks of life, should we be considering the scenario that some people may actually be incapable of moral reasoning?
42. What are the implications for business and societal ethics if some people don’t have a conscience, especially if some of these people are business and national leaders?
43. What are the implications if some business and societal leaders have ‘personality disorders’?
44. What are the implications if some are extremely adept at hiding their disorder from others – colleagues, clients, friends, spouses, children and teammates, for many years?
45. What are the implications for organisational practices if some such people appear to be charming, gregarious, fearless, inspirational, natural leaders who achieve rapid promotion and are seen by many of their peers as being ‘successful’? What if in fact they are not charming, indeed quite the opposite?
46. What if they are extremely adept at hiding their lack of emotions, inability to empathise, lack of compassion, total interest in themselves, total lack of interest in others, lack of remorse?
47. What if some specific organisations, industry sectors and indeed some national cultures attract such ‘difficult’ people? Admire them? Reward them? Promote them?
48. What if some senior executives by their very nature cannot experience fear or risk? Cannot empathise with anyone? Cannot see anyone else’s perspective? Must win at all costs? Irrespective of the size or nature of the organisation or group?
49. Why do some people appear to be fearless? What if some cannot experience fear? What if some cannot rationalise risk? What if some such people are leading financial institutions?
50. How did such people rise to senior management? Fairly and entirely by merit? Or by way of manipulation, deceit and pathological lies? Who did they cross en route? How many victims may have experienced their ruthlessness?
51. To whom could such victims report their callousness? Who would believe them given their ability to ingratiate themselves with the most influential members of management?
52. What if such senior executives lead large organisations? With significant financial and market influence? What if such senior executives are responsible for ethical failings? Yet their personality disorders prohibit them from feeling remorse? Accepting responsibility for their actions and consequences?
53. Which is the more natural personal inclination – competition or cooperation? Why do some leaders seem to prefer cooperation to competition while others engender highly competitive corporate cultures?
54. Is the creation and maintenance of a combative culture between colleagues contrary to the whole concept of forming a corporation to achieve common goals?
55. Are the cohort of business leaders discussed in this book likely to engage in ‘moral reasoning’ when research suggests they only ‘pretend’ to change their behaviour when either court-mandated or are faced with no alternative but to appear to do so, and then revert to type when not under pressure to ‘convey a good impression’?
56. Do we assume that all corporate decision makers are actually capable of reasoning morally?
57. Is self-interest a conscious decision or a state of mind? Might some leaders lack a conscience?
58. Why do some leaders appear more conscientious than others and inculcate admirable ethical standards amongst their colleagues while for others ‘winning at all costs’ dominates proceedings throughout their organisation?
59. Could it be the case that some more ‘ruthless’ leaders may be incapable of the empathy required to put themselves ‘in the shoes’ of their stakeholders, with trust often a casualty, especially when customers and clients divert their business to other organisations or, maybe even more damaging, when their better employees decide to take their abilities to firms where their talents are more likely to be recognised and appreciated and their personal integrity not persistently challenged?
60. What are the ethical consequences of some business people and societal leaders lacking the capacity to reason morally, tell right from wrong, recognise when they have done wrong and prioritise the interests and needs of those they are chosen to lead when decision-making?
61. Why do some leaders fail to appreciate that their leadership style, which may include attributing success to themselves while blaming others rather than taking responsibility for failures, may itself fail to inspire their colleagues to produce their best and consequently the organisation as an entirety may fail to achieve its true potential?
62. While persistent behaviour which could be construed by some as intimidating may make an initial impact and contribute to achieving short term goals, why do some leaders fail to to appreciate that ultimately this can prove to be counterproductive.
63. Why do such leaders fail to appreciate that most people do not respond well to threat, fear and coercion? Can they not comprehend that although their colleagues may follow their leadership, they may be unlikely to respect or trust them?
64. Are they ultimately incapable of realising that their lack of empathy and need for control can have a significantly negative effect on those they lead and in turn the lack of harmony they engender can result in sub-optimal performance of the department, organisation, entity or nation they manage or lead?
65. Do such leaders not realise that when they insufficiently appreciate their own people and their multitude of talents and interests, they fail to recognise that a contented, inspired workforce is more likely to contribute to collectively achieving organisational goals than a disenchanted group of individuals who operate in an unnecessarily competitive and perhaps even combative and ethically challenging environment?
66. Do such leaders not realise that the mindset which they strive to inculcate can involve being ultra competitive both internally and externally and this can too-readily become the dominant aspect of their culture, preferring competition to cooperation, sometimes at all levels throughout the organisation, no matter how counter-intuitive and indeed counter-productive this may appear to those with greater emotional insight and integrity?
67. Do such leaders not realise that the temptation to ‘cross the line’ between acceptable and unacceptable behaviour appears more likely when the culture is more competitive and adversarial than necessary?
68. Do such leaders not realise that once business practices start deteriorating, often starting with a gradual decline, it can take a considerable effort to ‘haul them back into line’, assuming the necessity to do so is appreciated, which may not be the case as this may require courageous colleagues taking a stance against the prevailing status quo?
69. Do such leaders not realise that the combative organisation risks losing some of its better employees – potentially the very people with the talent and level of conscientiousness which may be most required during times of ethical challenges?
70. Despite the problems such people create throughout society from impaired relationships and damaged reputations to business failures, chaos and even wars, perhaps throughout history being troublemakers not peacemakers, why is the concept of Personality Disorders such a well-kept secret, so much so that people so afflicted consistently seem to achieve seniority of position throughout global society?
71. Despite extensive media coverage of the often extreme cost of the damage, including reputational, resulting from reported ethical failures, why do some leaders fail to recognise that it is their acceptance of low integrity which ensures such instances are not only permitted but also more likely to recur by the more combative and destructive nature of the corporate culture prevalent within their organisation?
72. Why do so few other people appear to better understand “difficult” people and their initially bizarre, but in due course entirely predictable behaviour, to sufficiently realise that their motivations differ from those of most “normal” people?
73. Even after their organisation has collapsed with many people’s lives adversely affected, why do these emotionally labile individuals, because that is what they are, not team-players, still wonder what they did wrong?
74. Why do many people seem to associate strong, dominant leaders with also being self-centred, arrogant and excessively proud?
75. Why do some seem to associate visibly displaying humility as some form of weakness, as arrogant people can be chosen ahead of them for senior roles in society? Should humility in its variety of forms not be associated with strength of character?
76. Should excessive arrogance and pride not be perceived as a character weakness or deficiency in those chosen to manage or lead others, especially when this and related traits ultimately discourage and even inhibit other individuals or a group of people from performing near to their best?
77. Why do the most self-centred leaders not appear to appreciate the benefits arising from unity and co-operation in preferring conflict and disunity?
78. Why do so few people seem to realise that the unacceptable behaviour displayed by some highly challenging leaders may not in fact be odd and inconsistent but actually entirely consistent and quite predictable?
79. If we can identify such people in advance by way of their own behaviour, can we successfully avoid promoting them to positions of seniority in the entities, organisations and organs of the societies?
80. Why do we fail to recognise that those who prefer competition, conflict and disharmony to consonant and harmonious co-operation contribute to unacceptably challenging workplaces?
81. If most of us desire our workplaces to be warm, welcoming, peaceful, harmonious, collaborative and cooperative places to be employed in, why do we choose “selfish, difficult and proud” people who may be innately incapable of providing such environments for senior roles?
82. Why does society continue to appoint self-centred people to leadership positions, despite their possessing traits inappropriate to supervising let alone managing or leading people and likely to make those who appointed them regret they did so?
83. Why do we fail to recognise that those who take pleasure in harming others or do not even recognise that they are doing wrong, are quite likely to have something wrong with them?
84. Why do we fail to recognise that the interests of other people, let alone wider society and matters of ethics and morality, are not on the personal radar of people secretly or more overtly obsessed with themselves?
85. Why do we fail to recognise that the greatest talent of some self-centred people can be their ability to frequently hide their total lack of consideration for the interests and needs of others and their necessity to dominate, control and damage them emotionally?
86. Why do we fail to recognise that those who need to seek and even demand praise, can seem to be those for whom praising and encouraging others can pose an insidiously insurmountable challenge?
87. Why do we fail to recognise that those who can be most critical of other people yet themselves seem to be less capable of accepting criticism, who appear strong and thick-skinned may actually transpire to be weak and thin-skinned, over-reacting to any form of perceived rebuke?
88. Why do self-centred leaders insufficiently appreciate that people prefer peacemakers to troublemakers and harmony to disharmony? Why do self-centred leaders insufficiently appreciate that other people may actually pity those whose self-esteem is such that they can only see things from their own perspective and prioritise their self-interest to the detriment of others?
89. If people are “on edge” and too nervous to speak what may be crossing their mind, is this the fault of those “illegitimate leaders” who are supposed to be managing them to “contribute the most|” and “produce their best”, which seldom happens when the culture is based on fear and blame?
90. What is it about “legitimate leaders” that they seem to appreciate that when the culture is open and inclusive, warm and welcoming, even dare I suggest fun, people do feel inspired to contribute their best and to encourage their colleagues to do the same?
91. Which type of organisation is most likely to make more rapid progress, especially when facing challenging times, the entity more typified by fun or fear?
92. Could society really continue to appoint such innately difficult people with a mindset which differs significantly from most others to leadership positions? Why do many organisations inadequately appreciate that their greatest obstacle to harmonious progress could actually be their own leaders, due to their blinkered brains and truly illicit and illegitimate mindsets?
93. Could some people be so confident that they believe themselves to be “invulnerable” and hence can engage in many forms of illegitimate behaviour? Could this be because some cannot adequately experience fear and risky situations are not experienced any differently in their minds from more routine matters? Could some people really not be capable of experiencing life’s warmer and more positive emotions and even take pleasure in bringing out the worst, the most negative emotions, in even the best of people? Could some people really be so innately focussed on themselves and satisfying their own desires that they may be incapable of showing any interest in any other people other than doing so as pure pretence?
94. Why do those who choose or elect managers and leaders keep picking people who are proud, selfish, self-centred, cunning, challenging, controlling, power hungry, irrational, distrustful, irresponsible, dominant, deceitful, impulsive, aggressive, arrogant, moody, intense, argumentative, dramatic, manipulative and ruthless? Do they not realise that these traits have an adverse impact on the prevailing organisational or even national culture and should disqualify such people from being considered for business and societal leadership?
95. Why do we fail to appreciate that the most consistently illegitimate behaviour in business and indeed across society is perhaps more likely to be perpetrated by those whose minds may fundamentally differ from those of legitimate people, those lacking a cruel or self-centred streak who would not willingly set out to damage other people nor consciously mislead them because they are fundamentally kind people with a great deal of empathy and emotional intelligence?
96. Why are intimidatory traits erroneously believed to be necessary rather than inappropriate implements in the toolkit of respected leaders?
97. When will society better appreciate that “destructive leadership” practiced by “illegitimate leaders” who may also be “disordered leaders” is epitomised by combative, dishonest & adversarial cultures created by selfish, difficult, proud, perverse & disagreeable leaders, being fundamentally unkind, insincere & displaying shallow charm, lacking interest in others, empathy, remorse & conscience, being based on negativity, critique, fear, discouragement and blame, even subtle or overt cruelty, thriving on unhappiness, more capable of critique, demotivation, deceit, conflict, control, grudges, DISloyalty, DIScouragement, DISruption, DISagreement, DISunity, DIScord, DISharmony & DIStrust, who create & maintain more competitive, cold, unwelcoming, discouraging, intolerant, disagreeable, uncreative, mean, competitive, unstable & less safe organizational cultures, and that self-centred, arrogant, negative & destructive traits contribute to unaccountable, untrustworthy & irresponsible management lacking in integrity, of both people and organisations?
98. What is leadership and what positive traits should society be seeking in its leaders? Was Plato right to believe that those who do not desire power are fit to hold it?
99. When will society better appreciate that amongst the upsides of employing and promoting essentially modest and highly self-less people is that they are very focussed on the progress of the group and all that entails, including employing those most likely to themselves be outstanding, being enthusiastic and showing a genuine interest in their peers, wanting to inspire them to be forward-looking and innovative, knowing their suggestions for improvements and progress will be warmly received and likely to be implemented if valid, is that the group as an entirety itself performs far nearer to its true potential, responding to the positivity and loyalty shown by their generally warm-hearted, encouraging and quite constructive leadership?
100. When will society better appreciate that “constructive leadership” as practiced by “legitimate leaders” is epitomised by harmonious, open, honest & less adversarial cultures created by selfless, co-operative, modest & agreeable leaders, genuinely kind with bona fide charisma, being based on positivity, encouragement, inclusion, openness, confidence, empathy & emotional intelligence, more capable of motivation, praise, encouragement & stimulation, who emphasise teamwork & team-building, who create & maintain more welcoming, harmonious, encouraging, tolerant, agreeable, inclusive, creative, fun-loving, “playful”, righteous, loyal, generous, collaborative, cooperative, more stable & safer organisational cultures and that such positive, open, progressive & constructive traits contribute to accountable, trustworthy & responsible management with integrity, of both people and organisations?
101. Maybe we need to better appreciate the many merits of more intuitive, emotionally intelligent, modest and collaborative peacemakers, with an active conscience and greater depths of character including integrity, honesty, humility, dignity and common decency, with deep emotional (as well as cognitive, practical or exclusively rational) empathy and concern for the people they safely and responsibly lead. It is such enthusiastically wonderful people with a sense of humour (not directed at humiliating others) who create, maintain and augment more welcoming, harmonious, constructive, encouraging, righteous, tolerant, agreeable, inclusive, creative, fun-loving, loyal, generous, collaborative, cooperative, more stable, dignified and safer organisational cultures, conducive to people performing near to their potential?

Moral Neural Decisions

Moral decisions are typically seen to activate  similar brain regions essential in “higher order social processes” including empathy (Singer et al., 2004), with moral choices influenced by neural systems whose primary role is to facilitate cooperation (Rilling and Sanfey, 2011).

Psychologists and neuroscientists have the ability to temporarily disable areas of the brain by way of magnetic tools held over the head, with much having been learned from the use of technology such as Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation or TMS.

TMS was first successfully demonstrated in 1985 (Barker et al., 1985) to be  a very safe and noninvasive method for affecting brain function. It relies upon the properties of electromagnetic induction. A rapidly changing magnetic field is generated when a high-voltage current is passed through a coil. When this coil is held in close proximity to any electrically conducting medium, such as the brain, this time-varying magnetic field induces current in a direction opposite to the original current in the coil.

As a result of this “ion flow”, “action potentials “are triggered in neurons that are within the induced current field, along with a subsequent period of deactivation. Because normal ongoing brain activity is disrupted by this induced current, TMS provides a way for researchers to produce a transient and reversible period of brain disruption or “virtual lesion.” Thus, unlike other experimental techniques [such as functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), electroencephalography (EEG)/event-related potentials (ERPs)], TMS can assess whether a given brain area is necessary for a given function, rather than simply correlated with it. (Bolognini & Ro, 2010).

Research into the “mirror neuron system” (Rizzolatti and Craighero, 2004; Iacoboni et al., 2005) suggests that the experience of emotion in oneself and the perception of another’s emotions draw on many of the same underlying neural circuits and computational processes (Sommerville and Decety, 2006), including those most associated with experiencing empathy or “empathic concern” for others.

As far as moral reasoning is concerned, when the brain regions associated with empathy, whose activation correlates with the extent to which another’s intentions are taken into account are deliberately disrupted, the ability to use “mental state information” to make moral judgments is in turn interfered with (Young et al., 2010) per (Feldman Hall, 2012).

Indeed fMRI research also suggests “neural segregation” applies to moral reasoning. meaning slightly different  brain regions are involved depending on the perspective used during moral reasoning, meaning first or third person perspectives. 

Research demonstrates the existence of a wide network of areas underpinning moral reasoning, including the orbitofrontal cortex (OFC), insula (AI), amygdala, anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), precuneus and posterior cingulate cortex (PCC) as well as the medial (mPFC) and ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC) in the right hemisphere.

Indeed the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) lies in a unique position in the brain, with connections to both the “emotional” limbic system and the “cognitive” prefrontal cortex, considered to play a key role in “affect-regulation”, being the ability to control and manage uncomfortable emotions.

Considering matters from the first person perspective has been found to elicit higher activation in the bilateral insula and superior temporal gyrus as well as in the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), lingual and fusiform gyri, middle temporal gyrus and precentral gyrus in the left hemisphere.

The third person perspective elicits higher activation in the bilateral amygdala, the posterior cingulate cortex (PCC), insula and supramarginal gyrus in the left hemisphere as well as the medial and ventromedial prefrontal cortex in the right hemisphere (mPFC / vmPFC)

These results from a meta-analysis conducted by Boccia et al (2017) published in the Brain imaging and behavior journal shed light on the contribution of specific brain areas to moral reasoning, supporting a “functional specialisation” as a function of the perspective used during moral reasoning.

Research would also appear to suggest that those with neurological impairments, including those associated with a range of personality disorders, fail to engage in moral reasoning in the manner non-impaired people can, with the brain regions believed to be impaired in psychopathy and borderline personality disorder for instance being closely related to those associated with moral reasoning (eg Insel and Cuthbert, 2015). [Discussed in more detail later in this paper].

The dangers presented by those with one more of a variety of Personality Disorders to society at large, as well as business  and organisational  life in particular, including governmental, especially the “Cluster B” group of personality disorders (Narcissistic, Borderline, Histrionic & Anti-social) or the “Dark Triad” (Narcissism, Psychopathy & Machiavellianism, or the Dark Tetrad adding Sadism) have been well described by researchers:

“At its most basic, much of the business ethics debate discusses why fundamentally good people do something wrong, usually under some form of pressure. This paper proposes that unethical acts may also be performed by people who may themselves be fundamentally bad, doing what comes most naturally to them, causing harm to others, but who have developed a well-practiced expertise at portraying themselves as being good people. Most of the time. Then someone crosses their path when their true nature and covert characteristics may be exposed. Their thinly veiled lack of concern for others, camouflaged emotional poverty, hidden hatreds, cloaked or even absent conscience and other previously concealed attributes and clandestine traits are no longer obscured by their charming veneer and disguised by their mask of sanity” (Clarke, 2017).

“A substantial body of research has documented that grandiose narcissists are characterised by high self-esteem, a sense of personal superiority and entitlement, overconfidence, a willingness to exploit others for self-gain, and hostility and aggression when challenged. They also often assume leadership positions in organisations.
These dispositions affect their decision making. Grandiose narcissists’ overconfidence, impulsivity, willingness to ignore expert advice and tendency to rely on their own intuition to make decisions, results in a higher likelihood of making a bad decision. In addition, after getting the wrong answer, grandiose narcissists are more likely to externalise fault, blaming others for their errors while remaining self-confident in their judgment. These tendencies can put the organisations they lead at risk” (O’Reilly & Hall, 2021).

“Executives developed a ‘sense of entitlement’ which is “an aspect of a narcissistic personality who comes to believe that he and the institution are one. So this produces a sense of entitlement: that he can take what he wants when he wants it” (Zaleznik, 2002).

Psychopaths are “a class of individuals found in every race, culture, society and walk of life. Everybody has met these people, been deceived and manipulated by them, and forced to live with or repair the damage they have wrought” (Hare, Without Conscience, 1993).

The Dark Triad is a collection of three interrelated, malevolent personality constructs: Narcissism, Psychopathy and Machiavellianism with the common denominator of Disagreeableness” (Paulhus & Williams, 2002).

“Dark Triad research has grown exponentially in recent decades, with much of the literature focusing on establishing the profiles of socially aversive personalities. Studies investigating the Dark Triad with other personality traits have suggested that all the three relate to low honesty and low agreeableness. This suggests that the core of the Dark Triad lies in dishonesty, coldness and manipulation” (Lyons, 2019).

“Some leaders appear more conscientious than others and inculcate admirable ethical standards amongst their colleagues, while for others ‘winning at all costs’ dominates proceedings throughout their organisation” (Clarke, 2017).

“People who have high levels of H are sincere and modest; people who have low levels are deceitful and pretentious. The “H” in the H factor stands for “Honesty-Humility,” one of the six basic dimensions of the human personality” (Lee & Ashton, 2012, authors of the HEXACO model of personality which appears to better suit the business ethics arena than the Five Factor Model).

Successful leaders “build enduring greatness through a paradoxical blend of personal humility and professional will’ and ‘channel their ego needs away from themselves and into the larger goal of building a great company. It’s not that [such] leaders have no ego or self-interest. Indeed they are incredibly ambitious, but their ambition is first and foremost for the institution, not themselves… In contrast, two thirds of comparison companies had leaders with gargantuan personal egos that contributed to the demise or continued mediocrity of the company” (Collins, 2001)

“Psychopathy is a personality variable characterised by callous and unemotional personality traits, such as lack of empathy and guilt, and antisocial behavioural tendencies, such as impulsiveness and aggression.” (Frick and White, 2008; Feilhauer and Cima, 2013; Vierra & Marsh, 2014).

“Psychopathy is a complex personality disorder that includes interpersonal and affective traits such as glibness, lack of empathy, guilt or remorse, shallow affect or cold emotions, irresponsibility and behavioural characteristics including impulsivity and poor behavioural control.” (Kiehl, 2005).

“Psychopathy is a personality disorder characterised by interpersonal manipulation and callousness, and reckless and impulsive antisocial behaviour. It is often seen as a disorder in which profound emotional disturbances lead to antisocial behaviour. A lack of fear in particular has been proposed as an etiologically salient factor” (Hoppenbrouwers et al. 2016) although this may actually be a deficiency in the automatic detection and responsivity to threat as well as impairments in the experience of anger, happiness, love. kindness and affection, often referred to by psychologists as “shallow effect” meaning lack of emotional depth and perhaps even a deep dearth of warm, kind. caring emotions, or ice-cold.

Yet we trust such people with responsibility for the lives and emotions of others when we appoint them to supervisory, managerial and leadership roles throughout global society.

“Amongst the most recognisable elements of psychopathy are the non-existence of conscience and their shallow emotional relations. They are persuasive and eloquent individuals who use suitable phraseology to approach, impress and charm their prey. A nuclear characteristic is their inability to feel guilt, remorse and the non-existence of moral rules.

They can lose their temper easily and present aggressiveness without obvious or significant reason. They develop various antisocial behaviours that are repeated with success, the gravity of violent behaviour tends to increase and they can have problems with the law” (Tsopelas & Armenaka, 2012).

Yet we continue to appoint such people to senior roles, partly because aggressive and intimidatory behaviour is misinterpreted as being indicative of “strength of leadership” rather than a fundamental character flaw (which this research refers to as the Leadership Fallacy).

Society also appears to appoint these who may be lacking a conscience to roles whereby it is expected that decisions will be made in a conscientious manner. This would appear to be based on the (perhaps understandable) assumption made by decision-makers (and business ethics researchers) that everyone is at least capable of engaging in “moral reasoning”, whether they appear to do so or not when taking self-centred and impulsive decisions, rather than weighing up the likely consequences for the organisation and stakeholders they are responsible for, as well as the invisibly critical factors of trust and reputation (which this research refers to as the Business Ethics Fallacy).

The self-centredness and impulsivity of psychopaths is such that not only do they not appear to adequately consider the possible consequences of their words, actions, deeds and decisions on the entity they mis-lead and its variety of stakeholders, but even themselves, as they can transpire to be as damaged as anyone else, a byproduct of their impulsive thrill-seeking including when they do the opposite of what their managerial colleagues propose, purely for the sake of being “disagreeable”, one of the main aspects of the Big Five or Five Factor Model (FFM) of personality.

“Psychopathic traits also include Coldheartedness, Fearless Dominance, Self-centred Impulsivity, Social influence, Stress immunity, Machiavellian egocentricity, Rebellious non-conformity, Blame externalisation and Carefree non-planfulness“, which can be assessed using the “Psychopathic Personality Inventory-Revised” (Lilienfeld and Widows, 2005) considered to be particularly useful for those outside the prison population.

Those who create fear in others may not be able to experience anxiety or fear themselves in the manner that many others can, including deficits in threat detection and responsivity (Hoppenbrouwers et al. 2016), permitting them to behave in the manner that they can and do which many others could not, with this deficiency amongst others considered to be due to their brains being different.

Given highly psychopathic individuals’ penchant for deviant interpersonal behaviours, a troublesome feature of psychopathy is that individuals’ outward appearance rarely betrays their affective and interpersonal deficits (Cleckley, 1988; Vierra & Marsh, 2014) with their ice-cold personality traits often well masked by what this research refers to as their “ICE characteristics” of Intelligence, Charisma and Eloquence

Leading researcher Robert D Hare addresses this issue in a paper discussing the differences between psychopathy and the less stringent criteria of the easier to classify “AntiSocial Personality Disorder”, one of the four APA Cluster B disorders and which only refers to the more antisocial behavioural aspects but not the personality and emotional deficits associated with psychopathy.

While many incarcerated criminals would comfortably meet the criteria for AntiSocial Personality Disorder or ASPD, particularly due to the discomfort they cause others, only a minority of these would meet the far more rigorous Psychopathy criteria.

All such people cause significant societal disturbance and at great cost, not only in terms of policing and incarceration but also damage to both property and the quality of other people’s lives, notably the victims of their remorseless behaviour. Estimates vary, but it is considered that around a quarter of adult male prison inmates could be psychopaths (Hare, 2003).

However those who do not engage in overtly criminal behaviour and in some senses are too clever to be caught, can also cause great damage to the fabric and co-operative nature of global society, given their penchant for causing many forms of trouble and conflict in whatever arena they are involved, or permitted to operate without identification, sometimes in such a subtle manner that this cannot be readily traced back to them:

 

“In my book, Without Conscience, I argued that we live in a “camouflage society”, a society in which some psychopathic traits – egocentricity, lack of concern for others, superficiality, style over substance, being “cool,” manipulativeness, and so forth – increasingly are tolerated and even valued.

With respect to the topic of this article, it is easy to see how both psychopaths and those with ASPD could blend in readily with groups holding antisocial or criminal values. It is more difficult to envisage how those with ASPD could hide out among more prosocial segments of society.

Yet psychopaths have little difficulty infiltrating the domains of business, politics, law enforcement, government, academia and other social structures (Babiak, 1995).

It is the egocentric, cold-blooded and remorseless psychopaths who blend into all aspects of society and have such devastating impacts on people around them who send chills down the spines of law enforcement officers.” (Hare, 1996)…

 

… although the misdemeanours of many, major and minor, will be unlikely to ever be the subject of police investigation.

They will nevertheless send chills down the spines of anyone else who encounters them in any number of walks of life throughout global society, very few of whom will be able to associate their “selfish, difficult and proud” behaviour with what may well be one of the world’s greatest secrets (not by design) – what constitutes a “Personality Disorder”.

Psychopathy is often described, notably by Hare, as consisting of a variety of moderately correlated, overarching dimensions, frequently referred to as Factor 1 and Factor 2 Psychopathy, F1 and F2 or Primary and Secondary Psychopathy, which can be assessed by psychological experts by way of the well established PCL-R or “Psychopathy Checklist – Revised” associated with RD Hare (1991).

“Primary psychopathy” involves interpersonal and affective or emotional factors such as coldness and callous manipulation, with the Interpersonal traits being Glibness or superficial and insincere charm, a Grandiose and exaggerated sense of self-worth, and Pathological lying which augments their Devious and Manipulative capabilities by which they con and charm their way into situations and positions which ultimately they transpire to be incapable of fulfilling in the manner expected.

The Affective or Emotional facet refers to a Lack of remorse or guilt, Shallow affect or Cold emotions, Callousness or Lack of empathy together with a Failure to accept responsibility for their words, actions and (mis)deeds, blame for which can be attributed to situations or other people, but not themselves, contributing to they being associated with a lack of accountability and responsibility, even when they hold positions which demonstrably require both.

“Secondary psychopathy” is more concerned with risky and impulsive behaviours, consisting of Lifestyle and Antisocial elements, with perhaps the most relevant for organisational life, including business, being the extraordinarily spontaneous nature of their impulsivity and preference for taking risks rather than being more considerate, careful and even cautious. These aspects alone of their “disordered personality” can result in entirely unnecessary dramas and crises, alongside their poor behaviour controls which allows them to behave in a moody (labile), aggressive, hostile and intimidatory manner, even without any apparent provocation.

Their “poor behaviour controls” can force those in their company (no matter the walk of life) to persistently “walk on eggshells” (especially in their presence) and in due course adapt their own behaviour to diminish the degree of harm they can do (which this research refers to as “IDENTIFY AND ADAPT”).

They can particularly damage healthy interpersonal relationships and any prior harmonious and collaborative organisational / corporate culture, which they thrive on dismantling and turning into a disharmonious and combative environment, featuring other people “at each other’s throats” rather than cooperating to achieve common goals, the primary and usually unwritten goal of many (non-disordered) leaders.

While it is expected that leaders of any branch of society will motivate the people they lead to perform better, both individually and collectively towards collective achievement of their common goals, Disordered Leaders seem to operate on a different set of priorities and more self-centred goals, thriving on discouragement and demotivation, partially because their “need for stimulation” includes deriving personal satisfaction from making others feel worse, often by way of humiliation.

Although such practices (and mindset) are quite the OPPOSITE of that expected from leaders tasked with “using social influence to motivate a group of people towards achieving common goals”, we continue to make such people supervisors, team leaders, managers and leaders across global society, with entirely predictable consequences, failing to associate their visible behavioural traits with a personality disorder, the method by which they may be identified and consequently denied positions of power which they will inevitably abuse (a practice this research refers to as “IDENTIFY AND DENY”).

The Lifestyle facet consists of a Need for stimulation, Parasitic lifestyle, Lack of realistic long-term goals, Impulsivity and Irresponsibility, while the Antisocial facet refers to Poor behavioural controls, Early behavioural problems and Juvenile delinquency as well as Revocation of conditional release from prison and Criminal versatility, only some of which particularly apply to the business arena, even if some coworkers or associates would deem their treatment of other people, lack of concern for the organisation or entity the mis-lead, deficient morals and lack of a “sense of wrong” as “criminal”.

Psychopathy is a disorder characterised by reduced empathy, shallow affect and behaviours that cause victims distress, like threats, bullying and violence. Psychopathy has long been associated with two general domains of deficits: (a) impoverished emotional responses, particularly to fear-relevant stimuli and (b) increases in antisocial and aggressive behaviour.

Accumulating neuroscience research has identified brain regions in which dysfunction accompanies these psychopathic traits, including the amygdala.

Other regions believed to be part of the brain’s “fear circuitry” include the Insula and OFC or Orbito or Orbital Frontal Cortex.

Amygdala dysfunction and in particular reduced amygdala responsiveness may disrupt processing of fear-relevant stimuli like fearful facial expressions. Indeed psychopathy has become associated with reduced amygdala activity when judging the acceptability of frightening others, as well as impaired judgments about the acceptability of causing others fear, such that psychopathy may increase the belief that to incite fear in another person is a morally acceptable course of action. During experimental judgments, participants with high psychopathy scores showed reduced amygdala activity relative to participants with lower psychopathy scores. (Marsh & Cardinale, 2014).

While many studies associate psychopathy with abnormal size, shape, or activity of the amygdala, the anterior temporal cortex or ACC, which overlies and densely interconnects with the amygdala, has also been repeatedly associated with structural and functional deficits in psychopathy.

Psychopathy is also closely associated with dysfunction in the Prefrontal Cortex (PFC), with the most commonly reported subregions being the ventromedial (vmPFC) and orbitofrontal (OFC) and anterior cingulate cortex sectors  (ACC), as well as the interaction of the PFC with other brain regions.

The ventromedial and anterior cingulate sectors of the PFC are believed to mediate a number of social and affective decision-making functions that appear to be disrupted in psychopathy. 

The normal function of the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC) includes dealing with emotions and decision-making., especially that associated with social and moral behaviour.

The anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) is widely regarded to be a key brain area for motivating and regulating behaviour through cognitive and affective/emotional mechanisms. Activity in the ACC has been related to a number of functions potentially relevant to psychopathy, including reward, punishment, pain, negative affect/emotions, empathy, error detection, performance monitoring and cognitive control.

Much can be learned from people with damage to specific brain regions, which can result in changes to personality and behaviour. For instance damage to the vmPFC and ACC confirm their importance for emotional and social behaviour. The functional relationship between the ACC and vmPFC is reflected in brain structure, as the two regions are anatomically adjacent with dense reciprocal connections (Koenigs, 2012).

NETWORKS OF BRAIN REGIONS

While many neuroimaging investigations over the past couple of decades have focused on activation (or not) in specific regions (especially the “limbic” or “paralimbic syatem” and “prefrontal cortex”), more recent research suggests that abnormalities in connectivity within and across multiple “networks” of brain regions such as the Default Mode (DMN), Salience (SN) and Central Executive (CEN) or Task Positive Network (TPN) could explain the emotional and attentional deficits associated with psychopathic traits, as well as explaining both normal and abnormal empathy and trust.

“Historically, much of the understanding of how cognition is represented in the brain used a modular paradigm, in which particular cognitive functions are localised within discrete regions of the brain. More recently, however, cognitive neuroscience has shifted to focus more on large-scale networks of brain regions that work in tandem to support cognitive functions.” (Bressler & Menon, 2010)

“The Default Mode (Task Negative) Network or DMN and Central Executive (Task Positive) Networks (or CEN) are typically anti-correlated, with the CEN activated during effortful cognitive tasks, whereas the DMN is activated at rest and during self-referential thinking”. (Buckner et al., 2008).

Indeed there are a variety of brain networks or connected regions considered to perform specific and related tasks, with some regions “members” of a number of networks,  outlined as follows (adapted from Thomson & Jaque, 2017). Other networks for instance are associated with action perception and execution, or movement, such as the premotor, supplementary motor, parietal cortex, cerebellum, basal ganglia, lower brain centres and thalamus.

It should not be a surprise to find that (a) those regions associated with Neuroeconomics, or how the brain makes business and economic decisions, are also (by and large) those involved with more general decision making, trust, empathy and moral reasoning, in terms of both the specific brain regions themselves and the connected networks they are believed to be a part of,

nor that (b) some of these in turn are generally those same regions and networks believed to be impaired in those with personality disorder(s) associated with deficiencies in emotional depth and impairment in the related areas of decision making, trust, empathy and moral reasoning.

For instance this research published in 2020 refers to both the specific brain regions and the “network” they are associated with:

“These results associate psychopathy with neural abnormalities concentrated primarily in medial prefrontal, parietal and temporal cortices. Psychopathy was associated with increased task-related activity predominantly in midline cortical regions overlapping with the default mode network (dorsomedial prefrontal cortex, posterior cingulate and precuneus) as well as medial temporal lobe (including amygdala).

Psychopathy was related to decreased task-related activity in a region of the dorsal (meaning “rear”) anterior cingulate cortex overlapping with the salience network. Prior findings of consistent hyperactivation (over-activation)  in the fronto-insular cortex and hypoactivation (under-activation) in bilateral dlPFC, dmPFC and right amygdala were not corroborated by our models. These findings challenge predominant theories of amygdala hypoactivity and highlight the potential role of hyperactivity in medial default mode network regions and hypoactivity in the dorsal ACC, a key node of the salience network during task performance in psychopathy” (Deming and Koenigs, 2020). [Discussed later by way of extracts from Marsh & Cardinale, 2014].

What are the primary networks of brain regions associated with neuroeconomics, general decision making, trust, empathy and moral reasoning?

Default mode network (DMN) (the social brain / internal focus)

A. Thinking about self: Posterior cingulate cortex (PCC), precuneus, medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC), angular gyrus

B. Thinking about others: Dorsal medial PFC (dmPFC), lateral temporal cortex, anterior temporal cortex, hippocampus, parahippocampus, retrosplenial cortex, posterior inferior parietal cortex

Central Executive Network (CEN) or Frontoparietal network (FPN) (working memory, problem solving, reason, task flexibility, decision-making)

Frontoparietal regions – Dorsolateral Prefrontal Cortex (dlPFC), Anterior Cingulate Cortex (ACC), Orbitofrontal Cortex (OFC), lateral posterior parietal cortex (PPC) and ventrolateral Prefrontal Cortex (vlPFC).

Salience Network (SN/SEN) (integration of internal and external stimulus)

Cingulate-frontal operculum: Anterior cingulate cortex (dorsal), anterior insula, somatosensory cortex, autonomic nervous system (hypothalamus), amygdala, temporopolar cortex

Reward Circuit (RWN) (anticipation and prediction of pleasure and aversion)

ACC, OFC, vmPFC, tegmentum, caudate nucleus, dorsal and ventral striatum, substantia nigra, nucleus accumbens, autonomic nervous system (ANS), amygdala, insula, hypothalamus, hippocampus, thalamus, somatosensory and auditory cortices

 

The Central Executive Network or CEN is comprised primarily of the prefrontal cortex, especially the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (dlPFC), and lateral posterior parietal cortex (PPC) (Seeley et al., 2007). Many higher order executive functions that require consciously directed and focused attention depend on the activity and connectivity of the CEN (Fox, Corbetta, Snyder, Vincent, & Raichle, 2006; Tandon et al., 2013), including working memory, planning, and decision-making (McEvoy, 2007; Sridharan, Levitin, & Menon, 2008), suggesting this neural network is essential for conscious, “top-down” cognitive functions.

The Default Mode Network or DMN was first identified as a “task-negative” brain network including the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) and posterior cingulate cortex (PCC) that deactivated during most cognitively demanding tasks (Fisher et al., 2016; Raichle et al., 2001). However, this network is also highly engaged during tasks that require theory of mind and/or self-referential processing (Harrison et al., 2008; Kahn & Keefe, 2013), suggesting that neural systems supporting social cognition about self and others are typically activated at rest (Gusnard, Akbudak, Shulman, & Raichle, 2001; Haut et al., 2015; Keefe, 2008).

The Salience/Emotion processing Network or SN/SEN is a network that includes subcortical structures, such as the amygdala and thalamus, as well as the insula and anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) (Pinkham et al., 2007; Seeley et al., 2007). This network is engaged in autonomic reactivity and serves to process external stimuli, detect salient features of the environment, and shift attention of those stimuli, which often have emotional resonance or other personally relevant content (Bressler & Menon, 2010; Haut & MacDonald, 2010).

The SN could also be called the “Switching Network” as it plays a role in switching between “task-positive” networks like the CEN and “task-negative” networks like the DMN in order to mediate attentional focus between external and internal events (Lee et al., 2011; Menon & Uddin, 2010) (Haut et al, 2017).

The SN not only plays an important role in saliency detection and reactivity but also facilitates access to attention and working memory resources once a salient event has been detected. Emerging evidence suggests that the SN plays a crucial role in switching between large-scale brain networks involved in externally oriented attention and internally oriented mental processes (Sridharan et al., 2008).

During the performance of many cognitively demanding tasks, the SN, together with the lateral frontoparietal Central Executive Network, typically shows increase in activation, whereas the Default-Mode Network shows consistent decrease in activation below the resting baseline (Greicius, Krasnow, Reiss, & Menon, 2003; Greicius & Menon, 2004; Raichle et al., 2001).

Importantly, brain responses within these regions increase and decrease proportionately and often antagonistically, in relation to specific cognitive demands and subjective task difficulty. Once a salient event is detected, the anterior insula (AI) facilitates sustained processing by initiating appropriate transient control signals that engage cognitive and task control systems while suppressing the default-mode network (Sridharan et al., 2008) (V. Menon, 2015).

The Central Executive Network or CEN maintains and manipulates information in working memory and is also responsible for decision-making and problem-solving in the pursuit of goal-directed behaviour (Menon, 2011). Whereas the DMN shows activation during resting awake states, the CEN shows activation during cognitively and emotionally challenging activities. Its major nodes include the dorsolateral PFC and the lateral posterior parietal cortex (PPC).

The lateral posterior parietal cortex (PPC) integrates sensory and interoceptive information in order to facilitate sustained attention.

The dorsolateral PFC (dlPFC) manipulates material in working memory and weighs possible behavioural responses.

In addition to involvement in practical decision-making, the CEN is also implicated in task-oriented (e.g., top-down) processing necessary for effective emotion-regulation. CEN hypoactivity (under-activity) is associated with depression and various cognitive disorders (Menon, 2011).(Ashley Borders, 2020)

The “Impaired Integration” theory of psychopathy (Hamilton et al, 2015) suggests that connectivity within and between three resting-state networks underlies affective and cognitive processes involved in psychopathy, as they are implicated in perspective-taking, fear conditioning, and inhibitory control:

(1) the Default Mode Network (DMN), including the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC) and posterior cingulate cortex (PCC);

(2) the Salience (or cingulo-opercular) Network (SN), including the anterior insula (AI) and dorsal anterior cingulate cortex (dACC); and

(3) the Central Executive (or Frontoparietal) Network (CEN/FPN), including the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (dlPFC) and posterior parietal cortex (PPC) (Menon, 2011).

The DMN or default mode network is typically activated during resting-state and during tasks related to social cognition, autobiographical memory, theory of mind and moral reasoning, while being de-activated during externally oriented, non-social thinking (Buckner et al., 2008; Reniers et al., 2012).

In contrast, the CEN or central executive network is deactivated at rest and activated during working memory and decision-making in goal-directed behaviour, particularly when tasks are cognitively challenging (Menon and Uddin, 2010).

The SN or salience network is deactivated at rest and activated during various neurocognitive functions, adjusting arousal and attention based on external cues and internal states to enable switching between other networks (Seeley, 2019; Sridharan et al., 2008).

Despite being de-activated at rest, brain regions that constitute the SN and CEN still function synchronously during rest (Biswal et al., 2010; Greicius, 2008; Menon, 2011; Menon and Uddin, 2010), providing opportunities to investigate their interplay with each other and with the task-negative DMN.

Such investigations reveal that the SN modulates the activity of both the CEN and DMN (Goulden et al., 2014).

The “Impaired Integration” theory posits that psychopathy is characterised by abnormal functioning of the SN and DMN, but intact functioning of the CEN.

Compromised SN and DMN functioning is thought to impact the integration of complex sensory information, which is key in emotional learning (Blair, 2017) and relies on attendance to and integration of external (eg emotional faces; social norms) and internal cues (eg emotions; desires) to inform decision-making and behaviour.

Some studies found increased positive connectivity between regions within the CEN in offenders with psychopathic traits (eg Contreras-Rodríguez et al, 2015) while others  found reduced connectivity between regions within the DMN in offenders with psychopathic traits (Motzkin et al, 2011), with Philippi et al. (2015) finding reduced connectivity between the SN and CEN.

“Impaired Integration” theory also suggests that the CEN functions normally when engaged, which explains why individuals with psychopathic traits do not consistently display cognitive control deficits (Hamilton et al, 2015).

Marsh & Cardinale (2014) in a paper discussing how psychopathy impairs moral judgments availed of neuroimaging to find reduced amygdala activation in high-psychopathy participants as they considered the acceptability of causing victims distress. In addition, high-psychopathy participants judged causing victims distress to be more acceptable and reported higher levels of actual aggressive and violent behaviour.

They stated that their research not only confirmed prior findings by Blair and colleagues (2005, 1997) but were also consistent with the modern construct of psychopathy, initially developed by Cleckley, who, in describing the prototypical psychopath, stated:

 ‘In the disaster he brings about he cannot estimate the affective reactions of others which are the substance of the disaster. . . the real psychopath seems to lack understanding of the nature and quality of the hurt and sorrow he brings to others’ (Cleckley, 1988, p. 322).

Neurocognitive models of psychopathy developed more recently have built upon this idea. For example, Blair and colleagues have developed a model of violence inhibition in which impaired functioning in amygdala and associated structures (e.g. orbitofrontal cortex OFC) disrupts appropriate emotional responding to victims’ distress, which increases the likelihood of causing ‘hurt and sorrow’ in future victims (Blair, 2005, 1997).

Amygdala dysfunction is a feature of most but not all psychopathy related research, some of which believes the related dysfunctional behaviour may be a result of rival brain networks competing with each other or not becoming disengaged when they are typically expected to do so.

For instance the (already mentioned) research by Philip Deming and Michael Koenigs published in 2020 challenges predominant theories of amygdala hypoactivity and highlights the potential role of hyperactivity (overactivity) in medial default mode network regions and hypoactivity (underactivity) in a key node of the salience network during task performance in psychopathy, the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex (dACC) which, along with the insula, is neuroanatomically situated to send rapid signals deactivating the default mode network (DMN) and activating the central executive network (CEN).

They describe psychopathy as a personality disorder characterised by callous and impulsive antisocial behaviour, present in approximately one- quarter of adult male prison inmates, and a significant predictor of violent reoffending that costs the United States an estimated $460 billion per year, making psychopathy one of the most costly mental health disorders. 

Despite two decades of neuroimaging studies beginning to specify the neurobiological correlates of psychopathy, they suggested that a clear and comprehensive picture of the disorder’s neural correlates has yet to emerge. Their meta-analysis (or detailed review and analysis of prior studies) started with 373 studies, which were reduced to 25 for their final  meta-analysis.

They outlined the main results which were common to many prior studies as being due to (a) amygdala deficiencies, (b) collective amygdala and vmPFC failings, (c) dysfunction in the limbic/paralymbic system (most associated with Kiehl) and (d) reward system sensitivities notably in the  striatum/nucleus accumbens, which may account for their extraordinary impulsivity, seeking immediate pleasure without the restraints typically imposed by the non-impaired brain.

Deming and Michael Koenigs reported that that primary finding in psychopathy research concerns the amygdala, which is the focus of a robust literature on impaired fear and threat processing in psychopathy. Psychopathic individuals typically show diminished amygdala activity during negative issues or aversive conditioning, facial emotion recognition and moral judgment. Amygdala volume reductions and surface deformations have also been observed in psychopathic individuals.

A region densely interconnected with the amygdala, the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC), has also received substantial attention in the psychopathy literature. Psychopathic individuals show reduced vmPFC activity during moral judgment and in some studies reduced vmPFC volume.

The Amygdala and vmPFC have been identified by one theoretical perspective (Blair et al) as the primary circuit of dysfunction in psychopathy. According to this perspective, deficits in these regions underlie psychopathic individuals’ failure to pair negative and positive outcomes with their own actions.

Another perspective expands the scope of neural dysfunction beyond amygdala and vmPFC to the paralimbic cortex more broadly, including anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), posterior cingulate cortex (PCC), temporal pole, insula, and parahippocampal gyrus. Indeed, psychopathy has been associated with structural and functional abnormalities in these regions. Moreover, deficits similar to those of psychopathic individuals have been observed in patients with lesions in paralimbic regions, including ACC as well as vmPFC and amygdala.

Psychopathic individuals also display heightened sensitivity to rewards and sensation-seeking behaviour, which has been linked to increased volume and activity in the striatum. Psychopathic individuals show enlargements in several subregions of the striatum, including caudate, putamen, and nucleus accumbens, and increased activity of nucleus accumbens during reward anticipation. Increased volume and activity in the striatum may thus contribute to psychopathic individuals’ impulsive, sensation-seeking behaviour.

Indeed reward system sensitivities notably in the striatum/nucleus accumbens in principle would appear to well explain the impulsivity and thrill seeking, irrespective of and even apparently oblivious to any adverse consequences, for other people, the entity which employs them and (incredibly) even themselves, very much associated with psychopathic behaviour, which this research refers to as their “IPG Goal” of “Instantaneous Personal Gratification”, seeking immediate satisfaction without the restraints or constraints typically imposed by the non-impaired brain.

Although the studies outlined above highlight the importance of striatum and paralimbic regions—particularly amygdala and vmPFC—in psychopathy, Deming and Koenigs suggest that reliance on primarily hypothesis-driven analyses may limit the identification of other relevant brain circuits. A recent meta-analysis of fMRI studies aimed to specify the neural correlates of psychopathy using a “whole-brain” approach (Poeppl et al, 2018). Psychopathy was negatively related to task-based activity in bilateral dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (dlPFC), left dorsomedial prefrontal cortex (dmPFC) and right amygdala, and positively related to activity in bilateral anterior insula.

The reality could be that it is a combination of all of these dysfunctions that could explain the antisocial and immoral behaviour associated with psychopathy, as psychopaths are known to process fear differently, have reduced empathy and have no problem terrifying others (amygdala), show reduced capacity for moral judgement (vmPFC), are known to engage in risky or damaging behaviour purely for the thrill of the experience (striatum/nucleus accumbens), yet don’t seem to weigh up the consequences of their actions (dlPFC/amygdala/vmPFC).

These failings alone (per Kiehl, 2006) fail to account for “the complete manifestation of psychopathy”, as hippocampal regions (i.e., paralimbic) also appear to be implicated in the disorder, notably the orbital frontal cortex, insula, amygdala, parahippocampal regions, anterior superior temporal gyrus and rostral, caudal and posterior cingulate as well as other regions such as the more rational and less emotional dorsolateral and dorsomedial prefrontal cortex and even the hippocampus itself, or at least connections between these regions.

None of these are isolated reports, with all the options appearing across multiple studies, so it remains uncertain which (if any) of these options are the primary reason for psychopathic behaviour and the moral reasoning deficiencies associated with psychopathy.

This makes Deming and Koenig’s (2020) findings suggesting that psychopathy may be related to dysfunction within the DMN and the SN across a variety of tasks all the more intriguing, in essence that regions which are either on or off or vice versa in many people may not be fully disengaged in the minds of psychopaths, so they could be receiving different signals from the norm and as a result behave less rationally and more impulsively.

Two of their three primary findings were based on the three large-scale networks believed to serve core cognitive functions: the default mode network (DMN), salience network (SN) and the Central Executive Network (CEN), also known as the frontoparietal network (FPN).

As already mentioned, while the DMN increases activity during self- referential processing and decreases activity during externally focused, non-self-referential tasks, the CEN/FPN increases activity during cognitively demanding, externally focused tasks. There is evidence that the SN, which is particularly important for detecting salient external stimuli, is responsible for switching between the two anti-correlated networks, DMN and CEN.

Their findings suggest psychopathy is associated with increased task-related activity predominantly in midline cortical regions overlapping with the default mode network (dorsomedial prefrontal cortex, posterior cingulate, and precuneus) as well as medial temporal lobe (including amygdala). Psychopathy was related to decreased task-related activity in a region of the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex overlapping with the salience network.

The first matter they noted was the considerable overlap between the areas of psychopathy-related positive activity and the default mode network or DMN, particularly in dmPFC and PCC/precuneus.

One interpretation, previously outlined by Freeman et al (2015)  is that psychopathic individuals fail to deactivate these midline DMN regions during externally focused tasks. Such a failure could result in increased competition between DMN and externally oriented attention networks, such as the CEN, disrupting the shift of attention to the external task, and lead to corresponding performance deficits.

Findings of reduced deactivation in DMN regions may align with theories that highlight attention deficits in psychopathy.

In psychopathy, PCC/precuneus is not only overactive across a variety of tasks, but also less functionally and structurally connected to other DMN regions, including dmPFC and vmPFC, and to a region of the the CEN, collectively referred to as “altered resting-state functional connectivity” (Philippi et al, 2015).

The second main matter they noted was, as predicted, psychopathy being related to reduced dorsal Anterior Cingulate Cortex (ACC) activity across a variety of tasks. Research in healthy humans and animal populations has implicated the dorsal ACC in a number of processes, including experiencing negative affect and pain, cognitive control, and linking task context to strategy. As a key SN node the dorsal ACC, along with the insula, is neuroanatomically situated to send rapid signals deactivating the DMN and activating the CEN.

Indeed, there is evidence that SN functions at the top of a hierarchy that includes the DMN and CEN, modulating the two anti-correlated networks via inhibitory connections to the DMN and excitatory connections to the CEN.

Thus, one interpretation of reduced dorsal ACC activity in psychopathy, in combination with increased DMN activity, is that this SN node fails to properly deactivate DMN, leading to competition between attentional resources while psychopathic individuals are engaged in an externally oriented task.

Prior analyses of resting-state functional connectivity lend initial corroborating evidence of altered dynamics between the three networks: dorsal ACC (of the SN) and precuneus (of the DMN) are less functionally connected to the right intraparietal sulcus (of the CEN) in psychopathic offenders (Philippi et al, 2015).

Notably, some researchers have argued that common dysfunction within and between these intrinsic networks (DMN, CEN and SN) underlies a range of psychopathology (Menon, 2011; Sha et al, 2019). For example, a diminished modulating effect of SN on DMN and CEN has also been observed in patients with schizophrenia (Manoliu et al, 2014) and elderly individuals with mild cognitive impairment (Chand et al,2017).

Unusually their third primary finding was that increased rather than reduced levels of amygdala activity associated with psychopathy.

They suggest a number of reasons for this.

First, the amygdala is a heterogeneous structure, with distinct subnuclei that subserve different functions and interact with different brain networks, so psychopathy may be linked to hyperactivity (overactivity) in specific amygdala subnuclei and hypoactivity (underactivity) in others, a possibility that has already been raised, with several studies finding that amygdala relationships with psychopathy vary by sub-nucleus.

The second is perhaps even more interesting. 

Typically the amygdala has been associated with the “fear circuitry” of the brain (together with the Insula and OFC) and thus associated with negativity, while the striatum/nucleus accumbens has been associated with the “pleasure zone” of the brain and hence generally with positivity.

However more recent research suggests that both regions could be associated with processing BOTH positivity and negativity, depending on the circumstances.

This leads Deming and Koenigs (2020) to propose that the amygdala may switch its affective or emotional mode (i.e., positive or negative, appetitive or avoidant) across situations (Berridge et al, 2019, “Affective valence in the brain”).

This raises the possibility that amygdala dysfunction in psychopathy varies by context and, at minimum, amygdala dysfunction in psychopathy is more complex than simply reduced activation resulting in diminished fear conditioning.

They propose that future studies should examine whether altered modules (i.e., amygdala subnuclei) or modes account for this complexity.

Another  2020 study (H.L. Dotterer et al) found that psychopathic traits were only associated with positive DMN-CEN connectivity, but not connectivity within or between the DMN and SN, confirming prior research in which psychopathic traits were associated with positive connectivity between regions within the CEN and DMN (Espinoza et al., 2018), by showing that psychopathy is linked to the organisation and functioning of the DMN and CEN broadly.

As the DMN and CEN are typically anti-correlated (one is active when the other is inactive and vice versa), with the CEN activated during effortful cognitive tasks and the DMN activated at rest and during self-referential thinking, increased communication (and less segregation) between the DMN and CEN reflected in positive DMN-CEN density may interfere with higher-order cognitive processes that involve both networks, such as decision-making and theory of mind, which appear to be impaired in individuals with psychopathic traits (Hamilton et al., 2015). 

Moreover, hyper-connectivity (hyper is higher and hypo is lower) between the DMN and other networks, including the CEN, has been observed in individuals with other disorders marked by social cognitive deficits (autism spectrum disorder; Ecker et al., 2015; e.g., schizophrenia; Hu et al., 2017) leading to the suggestion that is possible that increased positive DMN-CEN connectivity reflects hyper-focus on goal attainment and internal cues and inflexibility in behaviour at the expense of attending to important environmental cues.

The association between psychopathy and DMN-CEN connectivity may be driven by affective or emotional features of psychopathy, when accounting for their overlap with the other facets (i.e., interpersonal, lifestyle, antisocial). In contrast to the lifestyle and antisocial features, affective and interpersonal features have been associated with unimpaired or even heightened basic attention abilities (i.e., better attentional control, better response inhibition and increased error monitoring), but deficits in flexibly using contextual information to modulate attention.

Heightened psychopathic traits were also associated with increased positive and decreased negative PCC node centrality. The PCC, a key node of the DMN, typically deactivates on cognitive tasks but activates during self-referential processing, future thinking and mentalising The PCC also appears to be involved in attention modulation, with patterns of activation differing for internally (increased activation) versus externally (decreased activation) directed attention. More positive connections and fewer negative connections involving the PCC suggest that, in individuals with psychopathic traits, PCC activation is more activated and less inhibited by regions in other networks, potentially reflecting higher propensity for self-referential thoughts and internally-directed attention (i.e., heightened “self-focus”). (H.L. Dotterer, et al, 2020).

 

TRUST

Similar neural regions have also been found to play a role in the “Neurocognitive Mechanisms of Trust” (Annabel Chen & Atsunobu Suzuki, 2020):

To further understand the mechanisms underlying trust decision making, efforts have been made to include non-invasive neuroimaging findings, mainly using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI).

One such recent attempt is the neuropsychoeconomic (NPE) model of interpersonal trust proposed by Krueger and Meyer-Lindenberg (2019). This model integrates knowledge and theories from neuroscience, economics and psychology within the context of economic exchange games (eg the Trust Game). It explains how psychological systems of motivation, affect and cognition interact with each other during the social dilemma posed by a two-person economic transaction and which large-scale brain networks implement those processes. More specifically, it proposes that trust emerges from the interplay among distinct psychological components of treachery, reward, uncertainty, strategy and trustworthiness (T-R-U-S-T).

The main large-scale domain-general functional neural networks engaged by these interactions are the reward network (RWN), salience network (SN), central-executive network (CEN) and the default-mode network (DMN).

In short, the RWN, SAN, CEN, and DMN engage with the reward, treachery, strategy and trustworthiness components of T-R-U-S-T, respectively. These networks operate in concert to reduce uncertainty contingent on trusting others.

The RWN is proposed to underlie motivational processes involving trust by supporting the anticipation and learning of rewards for trusting another person. The RWN consists of three dopaminergic pathways: the mesolimbic, mesocortical, and nigrostriatal pathways (Ikemoto, 2010). The ventral striatum (vSTR) in the mesolimbic pathway encodes prediction errors for reward, including reciprocation from trustees, and subserves reinforcement learning (Fareri et al., 2012, 2015). The ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC) in the mesocortical pathway integrates values and likelihoods of possible outcomes from each decision option to compute its expected utility (Behrens et al., 2008). Action selection and initiation based on such summary information is mediated by the dorsal striatum (dSTR) in the nigrostriatal pathway (Balleine et al., 2007).

The Salience Network (SN) is thought to underlie the affective processes related to the risk of treachery, that is, betrayal by other people. Its major constituents are the amygdala and the anterior insula (AI). The amygdala contributes to “fast-and-dirty” detection of the threat of treachery, which is based on, for example, facial appearance (Freeman et al., 2014) and group membership of trustees (Stanley et al., 2012). Negative feeling states arising from such perceived risk of treachery are represented in the Anterior Insula (AI) (Aimone et al., 2014; Castle et al., 2012), which drive people to avoid the possibility of being betrayed and, consequently, to distrust others (i.e., betrayal aversion). Damage to the amygdala and AI are both known to result in atypically high trust in another person (Belfi et al., 2015; van Honk et al., 2013).

The Central Executive Network (CEN) is proposed to foster cognitive control processes required to manage uncertainty associated with trust. This neural network comprises the dorsolateral PFC (dlPFC) and ventrolateral PFC (vlPFC). These regions are implicated in the detection and weighting of conflicting cues regarding whether to trust others (Cassidy and Gutchess, 2015; Fouragnan et al., 2013). Top-down control is also necessary to override prepotent responses, for example, to trust out-group others by overcoming fear of betrayal, which engages the lateral prefrontal regions as well (Hughes et al., 2017).

The Default Mode Network (DMN) supports social cognitive processes such as mentalizing and trait inference that inform the decision to trust. The temporoparietal junction (TPJ) and dorsomedial PFC (dmPFC) are the key nodes of this network. The TPJ has been thought to be essential for inferring the intentions of others (Van Overwalle, 2009). This mentalising process provides necessary information for assessing others’ traits (Malle and Holbrook, 2012), such as trustworthiness, since the same action (e.g., harming someone) may or may not be regarded as evidence for a certain disposition (e.g., immorality) depending on the actor’s intention (e.g., intention to harm). The dmPFC is considered to be involved in the formation and updating of impressions about others’ traits (Baron et al., 2011; Ferrari et al., 2016) (Annabel Chen & Atsunobu Suzuki, 2020).

 

EMPATHY (AND THE MIRROR NEURON SYSTEM)

Neuroscientists have also started to explore the neurobiological underpinnings of empathy (Decety, 2010; Zaki and Ochsner, 2012) and relate these to the similar neural regions associated with moral reasoning (Feldman Hall, 2012).

Moral decisions are typically seen to activate the insula, middle cingulate (MCC) and dorsal temporoparietal junction (TPJ), areas essential in higher order social processes, such as empathy (Singer et al., 2004).

This neural circuitry is well instantiated in the social neuroscience literature and fits with the findings that moral choices are influenced by neural systems whose primary role is to facilitate cooperation (Rilling and Sanfey, 2011).

The TPJ has been specifically implicated in decoding social cues, such as agency, intentionality and the mental states of others (Young and Saxe, 2008). For example, TPJ activation correlates with the extent to which another’s intentions are taken into account (Young and Saxe, 2009) and transiently disrupting TPJ activity leads to interference with using mental state information to make moral judgments (Young et al., 2010) (Feldman Hall, 2012).

While we may discuss region such as the ACC, many of the regions are divided into sub-regions which can actually play differing roles, partly because their myriad of connections vary with other brain regions, as well as some brain areas existing in both sides or hemispheres of the brain such as “the amygdala” which exists in both hemispheres.

The Anterior Cingulate Cortex or ACC offers a good example of this, primarily considered to be part of the Central Executive Network (CEN) or Frontoparietal network (FPN), but what appears to be confusing is that its dorsal area bis believed to be part of the Salience Network (SN/SEN), which also includes the amygdala, thalamus and (anterior) insula.

The brain structures involved in empathic experiences include the mirror-neuron system (MNS) and somatosensory cortex which have been suggested are involved in experiencing and seeing the actual cause of pain. The mirror neuron system features a special type of spindle-cell neuron only present in humans and the great apes. 

The anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) lies in a unique position in the brain, with connections to both the “emotional” limbic system and the “cognitive” prefrontal cortex. The more-anterior portion has been referred to as rostral or ventral ACC, with the portion adjacent to the PCC considered caudal or dorsal ACC, also referred to as the middle cingulate cortex (MCC), itself divided into anterior (aMCC) and posterior (pMCC) regions. (Stevens et al, 2011 – Anterior Cingulate Cortex: Unique Role in Cognition and Emotion).

Affect-regulation, the ability to control and manage uncomfortable emotions, is a primary goal for mental health clinicians in treating psychopathology. Avoidance of painful emotions is often the motivating force in negative behaviours, with damaging actions taken as part of maladaptive approaches to control, avoid, or regulate painful emotions.

Clinicians often treat patients by helping them to develop more adaptive coping mechanisms in regulating their emotions, so understanding the processes by which the  ACC contributes to regulation of emotions may assist clinicians in their therapeutic work.

As mentioned, over a century ago a German anatomist Korbinian Brodmann divided the brain into many different regions predominantly based on the different type of neurons found in each. His work published in 1909 has stood the test of time with many regions subsequently renamed as further knowledge became available, with others still also referred to by his numbering system.

Some suggest that the Brodmann’s Area 25 within the sACC is unique and could be considered a separate region. with an unusual aspect being the presence of “Von Economo” or  “Spindle cell neurons” found only in the cingulate (pACC and MCC) and insular cortices. 

Von Economo neurons are only present in the great apes and humans, but in no other primates, being more numerous in humans, possibly representing an evolutionary advantage. Some consider they may perform an adaptive function by helping humans and great apes act quickly on an instinctual/intuitive level in social situations. Others have speculated that they may provide fast communication with the anterior insula as part of a salience network.

A primary reason for separating the MCC from the ACC is that the connections are quite different, indicating probable differences in functions. In brief, the MCC has extensive connections with cognitive (e.g., lateral prefrontal) and motor-related (e.g., premotor and primary motor) areas of the  cortex and with both pain- and motor-related thalamic nuclei. It also contains the cingulate motor areas, which project to the spinal cord.

In contrast, ACC has extensive connections with areas known to be important for emotion (e.g., amygdala), autonomic (e.g., lateral hypothalamus, brainstem centres), memory (e.g., hippocampal region),and reward- (e.g., orbitofrontal cortex, ventral striatum) related functions. The aMCC receives strong projections from the pain-related thalamic nuclei and also has strong connections with the amygdala. Compared with the subgenual portion of ACC (sACC), the pregenual portion (pACC) has more widespread connections with the lateral prefrontal cortex and much fewer with the amygdala. It also has fewer projections to the ventral striatum.

Indeed the sACC has the highest connectivity with limbic- (amygdala, ventral striatum, hippocampus) and autonomic- (hypothalamus) related areas, whereas the MCC has the highest connectivity with cognitive- (dorsal prefrontal cortex) and motor- (premotor and motor cortex) related areas. 

 

 

Josanne D. M. van Dongen in her 2020 paper “The Empathic Brain of Psychopaths: From Social Science to Neuroscience in Empathy* well describes neuroscientific advancements in the study of empathy:

Empathy is a crucial human ability, because of its importance to prosocial behaviour, and for moral development. A deficit in empathic abilities, especially affective empathy, is thought to play an important role in psychopathic personality.

The term “empathy” is applied to various phenomena, including feeling the same as another person is feeling, feeling pity for another person, and knowing what the other person is feeling or thinking (Batson, 2009). The labels of these concepts also vary between empathy, sympathy, pity, and compassion. Although these concepts are related, and sometimes overlap, they do not represent the same psychological (and neurobiological) phenomena.

Not surprisingly, there is still a debate on what the construct of “empathy” entails. Some scholars include both self- and other- oriented processes (Decety, 2010), and others only include those phenomena that are oriented toward the person in need (other- oriented; empathic concern; Batson, 2009). Hence, as already briefly outlined above, empathy (the capacity to understand and know the difference between one’s own emotions and feelings and that of another person) is distinguished from sympathy (to be concerned about the wellbeing of another person).

While the terms empathy and sympathy are often used interchangeably, the two can be differentiated: the experience of empathy can lead to different outcomes: an other-oriented motivation, sympathy, or a self- oriented feeling of distress imposed by the stressor which includes, and may also be congruent to the emotional state of that other person (emotional contagion). Sympathy may be the result of understanding another’s affective state but does not have to be consistent with that state.

Generally, researchers have postulated that empathy includes both affective and cognitive components (Decety and Jackson, 2004; Eisenberg and Eggum, 2009; Decety, 2010; Zaki and Ochsner, 2012). Based on evidence from cognitive neuroscience and developmental psychology, a number of different, but interacting mechanisms result in the experience of empathy (Decety, 2010; Zaki and Ochsner, 2012):

(1) An affective component of affective sharing or emotional contagion; a bottom-up process which is a result of perception-action coupling, and emotion perception (Preston and de Waal, 2002).

(2) A cognitive aspect of mentalising or perspective taking (i.e., Theory of Mind; ToM); the ability to make a distinction between oneself- and other, and

(3) executive functions which influence the extent of an empathic experience, and results in empathic concern (i.e., sympathy), using amongst others the perceiver’s motivation, memories, and intentions.

Research indicates that the affective empathy develops before cognitive empathy.

Following the Perception-Action Model (Preston and de Waal, 2002), it is suggested that newborns are able to mimic facial expressions, and infants are found to become distressed if they hear another baby cry. That is, they perceive the crying of another infant that (automatically) contributes to affective sharing. Thus, affective responsiveness is present at an early age, is automatic, and is the result of mimicry and somato- sensorimotor resonance between the self and other.

The cognitive components of empathy include ToM, or mentalising. This is the ability to infer the mental states of another person, which includes executive functions such as attention, working memory, and self-regulation. These “higher” cognitive abilities are suggested to develop later in life, because the prefrontal cortex develops more slowly than more basal (emotion related) brain areas, reaching maturation in late adolescence (Bunge et al., 2002).

The development of the prefrontal cortex permits children to express their feelings and develop self-regulation by using inhibitory control over their thoughts, attention, and actions (Diamond, 2002). Thus, although affective aspects of empathy develop early in life, maturation of the frontal brain influences the way executive functions interact with empathic responding. That is, executive functions (i.e., emotion regulation, inhibitory control, etc.) have their effect on how empathy develops in its full scope of facets.

Although at first it was thought that ToM abilities develop later in childhood, more recent studies have suggested that babies already have obtained these abilities to some extent by the age of 4 years (Onishi and Baillargeon, 2005). Moreover, babies as young as 7 months are found to have a “social sense” (Kovács et al., 2010). This social sense is an automatically computed online belief about another agent, which is maintained even in the absence of that agent.

The perception and resonance of the affective states of another person are thought to result in shared representations of oneself and others. Evidence suggests that for particular emotions, such as fear, disgust and pain, there are brain regions that map the emotions of another to oneself.

That is, we not only “simply” understand the emotions of another person, we also feel as and feel with the other person. These abilities are found to be grounded in shared representations (Keysers and Gazzola, 2006). However, although the human mind has, in some cases, an egocentric bias (we think that others think and feel as we think and feel), successful social interactions partly result from the ability to distinguish oneself from the other (Sommerville and Decety, 2006).

The shared-representation theory of social cognition (Sommerville and Decety, 2006) suggests that the experience of emotion in oneself and the perception of another’s emotions draw on many of the same underlying neural circuits and computational processes, including somatosensory and motor representation (see later in this review for neural structures and mechanisms involved in empathy).

One important mechanism involved in this shared representation, is the mirror neuron system (Rizzolatti and Craighero, 2004; Iacoboni et al., 2005). Past research generally has focused on “what is shared” by these shared representations (i.e., cognition and/or emotional states), and less on “how these are shared.” Advances have been made by Bird and Viding (2014), who formulated a model of mechanisms by which the affective state in another may result in an empathic response in the self. In this Self Other Model of Empathy (SOME), empathy is differentiated from emotional contagion in that emotional contagion results from the vicarious experience of the affective state of another person, without recognising this state as being a part from that other person.

Empathy results from the mechanisms of emotional contagion, with the addition that one recognises that the experienced affective state is experience by that other person. This accomplished by a so-called Self/Other switch, a system that requires information from the ToM system to results in a switch from self (the default) to the other (Bird and Viding, 2014). Together with understanding the situation both the self and the other are in, it evaluates whether the affective state of the self, corresponds to the situation and emotional state of the other person.

Neuroscientists have started to elucidate the neurobiological underpinnings of empathy (Decety, 2010; Zaki and Ochsner, 2012). Functional neuroimaging studies have shown that imagining emotional experiences from our own and from someone else’s perspective result in comparable psychophysiological reactions and patterns of brain activation.

For example, Ruby and Decety (2004) showed that the imagined emotional conditions for both the self and the other perspectives led to similar activation of brain areas that are involved in emotional processing, including the amygdala and the temporal poles.

In a study by Preston et al. (2007), heart rate, skin conductance, and neuroimaging measurements were combined in participants who were also asked to imagine a personal experience of fear or anger from their own past, and an equivalent experience from another person as if it were happening to them. Results confirmed earlier results, in that similar patterns of psychophysiological and neurological activation were found when participants could relate to the scenario of the other, and to those of personal emotional imagery.

Developmentally, the process of empathic distress or emotional distress may play a role in the underpinnings of prosocial behaviour (Hoffman, 1990). Also, the expression of pain offers an important signal to others, that motivates behaviour such as caring for a person in distress (i.e., sympathy). It is the affective experience of pain that indicates an aversive state and motivates behaviour that, for example ends, or reduces exposure to the source that has led to the aversive state in the first place (Price, 2000).

The perception and experience of pain is therefore often used by researchers as a valuable and ecologically valid means to investigate the experience of empathy, so most research in empathy has focused on empathy for pain, and how different factors modulate its experience and behavioral expressions (Singer and Lamm, 2009; Lamm et al., 2011).

Different functional neuroimaging studies have shown that similar brain regions are activated during the personal experience of pain and when attending to the pain of others (Lamm and Majdandžiæ, 2015; Zaki et al., 2016). These regions include the anterior insula (AIC), anterior mid and dorsal anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), and periaqueductal gray (Lamm et al., 2011).

Greater connectivity to the ACC and AI during “other pain” than during self-pain was found in the dorsal medial prefrontal cortex, as well as regions in the superior temporal sulcus, posterior cingulate, and precuneus that became more connected to ACC during other pain compared with self-pain. (Zaki et al, 2007)

These and other results show that there are distinct neural networks associated with ACC and AI in response to personal experience of pain and response to seeing other people in pain (Morrison and Downing, 2007; Zaki et al., 2007).

Facial expressions of pain form an important category of facial expression that is easily comprehended by observers. In one study Botvinick et al. (2005), the neural response to these facial pain expressions were examined using fMRI while subjects viewed short video sequences showing faces expressing either moderate pain or, for comparison, no pain. Facial expressions of pain were found to lead to cortical activation similar to areas activated in firsthand experience of pain, including the ACC and AI.

Similar results were found by Lamm et al. (2007), who scanned participants, and let them listen to painful sounds and let them watch videos of people expressing pain due to listening to painful sounds.

Concerning the brain structures involved in empathic experiences, the mirror-neuron system (MNS) and somatosensory cortex are suggested to be involved in experiencing and seeing the actual cause of pain (Decety, 2010). However, it remains debated whether the emotion sharing mechanism in humans actually requires the involvement of the MNS (Baird et al., 2011).

Mirror neurons are a class of cells that were first identified in monkeys (Gallese et al., 1996). Although first it was thought that these cells were mainly involved in action understanding and imitation, now, different higher cognitive functions have been found to be associated to the MNS, including empathy (Rizzolatti and Craighero, 2004).

In sum, previous functional neuroimaging studies indicate that perceiving or imagining another individual in pain is associated with activity in brain areas processing sensory, and motivational-affective dimensions of pain in oneself.

EMPATHY AND PSYCHOPATHY

Neuroimaging studies found that the structures relevant for empathy are dysfunctional in persons with psychopathic traits (e.g., Koenigs et al., 2007; Shamay-Tsoory et al., 2010; Decety et al., 2013b; and see Lockwood, 2016 for a review).

For instance, in one study, persons scoring high and low on the PCL-R (Psychopathy Checklist – Revised) were examined during the viewing of pictured depicting bodily harm (Decety et al., 2013a). They had to imagine that this harm involved oneself, or another person. During the imagine-self perspective, participants with higher scores on psychopathy showed atypical response in the AI, aMCC, SMA, IFG, somatosensory cortex, and right amygdala. This corresponds with the brain network involved in the experiencing of pain. Conversely, during the imagine- other perspective, individuals with higher scores on psychopathy showed a different pattern of cortical activation and effective connectivity resulting from the AI and amygdala with the OFC and vmPFC. Moreover, the imaging-other condition, in the amygdala and insula was inversely correlated with the interpersonal and affective traits of psychopathy.

Meffert et al. (2013) conducted a study using fMRI involving the viewing of scenarios depicting hand movements and found a similar pattern of reduced activation of brain areas involved in empathy in persons with psychopathy compared with controls.

Interestingly however, they also found that when these individuals were instructed to empathise with the person in the videos, the reduction in activation became less. The authors concluded that persons with psychopathy do not have a total absence or incapacity to empathise with another person, but that brain mechanisms involved are not automatically activated in these individuals (see also Keysers and Gazzola, 2014 on the ability vs. propensity for empathy).

That persons with psychopathic traits do not seem to have a total lack of empathy was also shown by a recent online survey study (Kajonius and Björkman, 2020). In this study, the authors investigated the disposition of empathy and the ability to empathise in persons scoring higher and lower on the Dark Triad personalities (i.e., Machiavellianism, psychopathy, and narcissism). It was found that dark triad personality was not related to ability-based empathy, but strongly negatively related to dispositional based empathy.

Most research that support a lack of empathy in psychopathy are supporting a lack of affective empathy. Robinson and Rogers (2015) for example, found that psychopathic criminals had no impairment in cognitive empathy (i.e., ToM or mentalising), but did not seem to possess affective empathy.

Throughout the years, studies examining neuronal networks involved in psychopathic personality have increasingly been carried out, for example by using functional connectivity analysis. “Functional connectivity” is defined as the relation between the neuronal activation patterns of anatomically separated brain areas.

Psychopathy has mostly been associated with atypical functional connectivity in (regions of) the default mode network (DMN; Raichle, 2015), including the mPFC, posterior cingulate cortex, precuneus, and angular gyrus, as well as bilateral IPL expanding to posterior temporal areas around the TPJ (Buckner et al., 2008).

The DMN has been implicated in empathy, self-processing and moral behaviour (Buckner et al., 2008; Andrews- Hanna et al., 2010; Li et al., 2014), and abnormal functioning of this default mode network may play an important role in explaining core psychopathic traits, such as impaired emotion recognition (e.g., affective ToM; Grimm et al., 2009), and impaired moral decision making (Tassy et al., 2013). Subsequently, the DMN now is becoming increasingly recognised as a network of the social brain (Mars et al., 2012).

Individuals with psychopathic traits are found to have a deficit in dispositional empathy, particularly related to the processing of distress and negative arousal cues (i.e., affective empathy and affective ToM). These deficits are likely to be related to dysfunctions in a wide brain network involved in empathy, including the vmPFC/OFC and amygdala. And because a lack of sharing of vicarious negative arousal in these individuals, this may result in not showing empathic concern for others.

[This section extracted from the superb 2020 paper by Josanne D. M. van Dongen on “The Empathic Brain of Psychopaths: From Social Science to Neuroscience in Empathy*]

On initial consideration, an anomaly appears to be how psychopaths can be associated with a lack of empathy, yet can be very adept at identifying differences between individuals, specifically when deciding whether they are worth charming or not, notably when deceiving and manipulating them for some form of either personal advantage or purely for the thrill of the deception, which involves a less visible form of gain.

The answer would appear to be in the research findings that psychopaths may not suffer from deficiencies or impairment in “cognitive empathy”, so can understand other people to a degree, but that as they do not seem to possess “affective empathy” their understanding is completely lacking in any emotional impairment.

The problem they pose to the rest of society is deepened by their inability to appreciate their deficiency. Just like it can be difficult (if not impossible) to suggest to a selfish person that they may be self-centred, it can be an even greater challenge to (try to) explain to someone who would appear to be deficient in empathy that they lack something they never possessed in the first place.

Prof Hervey Cleckley frequently referred to this double deficiency in in his masterpiece The Mask of Sanity (extracted at the foot of this article/paper) such as:

  1. “the core of the psychopath’s essential abnormality [lies] perhaps in a lack of emotional components essential to real understanding” (p173)
  2. “his subjective experience is so bleached of deep emotion that he is invincibly ignorant of what life means to others” (p386)

By and large empathy related research amongst non-impaired individuals would appear to favour the more attractive reason that kind behaviour towards others is more motivated by more selfless and altruistic reasons (making others feel good or better) than the more selfish reason that helping another in need is primarily to diminish personal feelings of guilt or distress which would be experienced especially by refusing to come to their assistance or extend them some for  of kindness .

This research confirms some of the many conclusions of my own decade of research into the psychological and neurological underpinnings of fundamentally “constructive” or “destructive” leadership and why we so frequently choose leaders with a personality disorder (“Disordered Leaders”), often  who may be deeply and utterly cold, callous, self-centred and ultimately destructive by nature, hidden by what my research describes as their “Mask of Normality” which typically consists of their “ICE-characteristics” of “Intelligence, Charisma and Eloquence” despite they being “ice-cold” emotionally, over far kinder, more empathetic people with much higher emotional intelligence, especially those with “a genuine concern for the interests and needs of others” with a genuine passion for the organisation, its people, and their collective success, not primarily their interest,  as described by the research findings of Jim Collins and his team in “Good to Great” (2001) that in essence those my research refers to as “Constructive Leaders”:

“Build enduring greatness through a paradoxical blend of personal humility and professional will’ and ‘channel their ego needs away from themselves and into the larger goal of building a great company. It’s not that [such] leaders have no ego or self-interest. Indeed they are incredibly ambitious, but their ambition is first and foremost for the institution, not themselves… In contrast, two thirds of comparison companies had leaders with gargantuan personal egos that contributed to the demise or continued mediocrity of the company” (Collins, 2001).

The problem for business and society is that during the intervening two decades far more leaders with “gargantuan personal egos” have been selected or elected to senior positions throughout the businesses and other organisations of global society, most apparent when chosen to (mis) lead the governments of the very nations themselves, which my research proposes is partly due to societal ignorance of the field of “personality disorders” normally the realm of clinical psychologists and in recent decades, neuroscientists areas I decided to study and research myself, particularly from 2013.

For Leadership and Management to further evolve, it requires those whose expertise includes motivation and encouragement, not humiliation and discouragement, respect and inclusion not disrespect and exclusion, collaboration and cooperation not conflict and combative cultures, long-term vision and reputation protection not short-sighted myopia and “anything goes” trust demolishment, preferably with a demonstrably greater interest in the entity and people being led, than themselves.

For businesses, other types of organisations and even nations to evolve, they need to be led and managed by the right people; those with a genuine concern for the task, interest in the people involved, desire to make sensible progress and possessing the variety of predominantly constructive talents required for the role.

Fortunately the vast majority can be trusted and we hear very little about them, most certainly not from themselves.

However not all leaders and managers are fundamentally responsible and trustworthy and we can tend to hear a great deal about them, both from themselves (concerning their undoubted brilliance) and the (not so brilliant) outcomes and sometimes devastating results arising from the negative impact they have on the entities and even nations they mis-lead.

It is extraordinary the number of organisations who go to great lengths to devise laudable Values Statements, then communicate, advocate and inculcate these Core Values with their coworkers, then undo all this well-intentioned good work by (unwittingly) appointing amongst the most covertly unethical people in society to manage and lead them.

Yet time and time again all such entities, apparently in every nation and quite likely in every sector of society, continue to choose the wrong type of people to lead and manage them, sometimes even the most inappropriate possible, those with a Personality Disorder, knowledge of which would appear to be one of the world’s best kept secrets.

This is partly because most other people just don’t seem to know quite what to look for, including (a) how to identify those who may differ from the norm and ultimately be more “destructive” by nature and also (b) better appreciating the many merits in those who may not flaunt their own abilities yet transpire to be “constructive” and deeply responsible by nature.

At the US IVBEC business ethics conference, held in Dublin in October 2019, I proposed an initial definition of a “Disordered Leader” for discussion and refinement:

“Someone trusted with supervisory, managerial or leadership responsibilities who, due to what may be indicative of a mental and/or personality disorder(s), could be considered to be incapable of consistently responsible, trustworthy, harmonious, prosocial and accountable management or leadership with integrity, including prioritising the interests of stakeholders other than themselves, especially when this may impede satisfying their self-interest.”

The fact that the most “ruth-less” (meaning sympathy-free) have been shown to so readily and perhaps unwittingly and naturally engage in high levels of pathological lying and deceit, cunning manipulation and egocentric, callous and impulsive behaviour, characterised by a consistent lack of responsibility, empathy, kindness, remorse and conscience, are also well versed in using their charm, confidence, eloquence and arrogance to hide their true traits even from experienced psychologists, poses many challenges for global society, and has done for millennia, especially when they believe themselves to be “normal” and see nothing wrong with words and deeds which many other people wouldn’t or couldn’t even countenance.

Astute and “Constructive Leaders” well recognise that fear, intimidation and humiliation are invalid implements in their motivational toolkit, even if “Destructive Leaders” use them to damage other people.

With “Constructive Leaders” often seeking no personal acclaim and passing credit to successes to others, while accepting responsibility for the failings of those they lead, and “Destructive Leaders” taking credit for the achievements of others while blaming and “putting down” others for their own failings, ultimately it becomes apparent that there is no humiliation in humility nor humility in humiliation.

Extraordinarily many organisations, misled by their shallow charm, smart words and false promises, disconnected from reality or subsequent action, continue to trust those incapable of successfully managing their own emotions with responsibility for the lives, welfare and emotions of others.

But as they are IDENTIFIABLEprevention is preferable to the improbability of cure.

Due to their “maladaptive” nature, including the inflexibility of their mindset, to those who understand them well, their apparently peculiar, irrational and bizarre behaviour, not focused on “doing the right thing” for the organisation (or nation) they mis-lead, becomes quite predictable, which means when their traits are more universally understood and appreciated (the primary goal of this research), they CAN be denied the power and influence they will inevitably mis-use, irrationally in a manner which they (perhaps delusionally) perceive to benefit themselves and facilitate satisfying their main goal and only true passion in life – their self-interest.

This is especially so when their victory (even in trivial matters) both advantages themselves and disadvantages others, given that they greatly prefer “win-lose” to the “win-win” outcomes most leaders aspire to achieving.

Their polar opposite in almost every respect –  “Constructive Leaders” – recognise that when both parties are satisfied with the outcome arising from any situation, this is more likely to  result in healthy and ongoing relationships, perhaps of white a long-term nature involving a significant degree of both “repeat business” and the “word of mouth referrals” that all successful business require, which are most certainly and in due course very evidently NOT the concern of “Disordered Leaders” especially when they impulsively seek “Instantaneous Personal Gratification” from any given situation, being more motivated by “win-lose” than the “win’win” outcomes sought by more innately rational people, whatever their role in society may be.

Throughout human history society seems to have mistaken confidence, charm, arrogance and apparent intelligence, displayed by way of eloquent “talk of integrity”, for strength of character, and misinterpreted intimidatory traits for strength of leadership, when in reality such fundamentally weak and perhaps childlike bullies may possess neither good character nor genuine managerial or leadership ability.

Intimidation and aggression produce fear, anxiety and discouragement, which prevent our minds from thinking positively and creatively.

Neuroscientists explain that when people are satisfied, content and indeed happy, they avail of one set of brain regions which allows them to be at their best and most creative, seeking cooperation and wanting to fully engage, while when they are scared, fearful or unhappy, they avail of a different and rival set of brain regions (only one of which can appear to be active at any given time) more likely to bring out the worst in them, the response triggered when they are disrespected rather than encouraged by others.

Hence the importance of leaders and managers behaving in a predominantly positive manner – cajoling, encouraging, motivating and even inspiring those they have responsibility for, even when they have not quite performed to their potential, which those with ample “emotional intelligence” are often very well equipped to both realise and practice.

Yet those who put-down, humiliate, disrespect and bully others can somehow be associated with “strength” rather than “weakness” of both leadership and character, perhaps even a “PERSONALITY DISORDER”.

Extraordinarily we trust the coldest and most self-centred people possible – expert actors but ultimately lacking any genuine interest in other people at all, indeed in anyone but themselves, whose often considerable charm is skin deep and lacking any sincerity, whose eloquence can hide a fundamental disconnect between words, deeds, promises and subsequent actions, whose often ample intelligence is misused, being cunningly calculating, self-centred and anything but emotional, indeed those lacking the core essence of humanity, perhaps amongst the most irresponsible people on earth – with responsibility for the lives of employees, volunteers and citizens throughout global society when they hold positions of power, which they inevitably can only abuse as they prioritise competition and conflict over co-operation, disharmony over harmony and themselves over everyone and anything else.

Appreciating that their conscience-free mind may be disordered, thinking “distorted” and emotional depth “shallow”, could be a critical first step on the road to progress, otherwise a frustratingly fruitless exercise.

Any attempts at trying to deal with them “normally” may well be doomed to failure.

At the US IVBEC business ethics conference, held in Dublin in October 2019, I proposed that the steps the rest of society needs to take to protect itself from such leaders include:

  1. IDENTIFY these abnormal people, by way of their own behaviour, “Destructive Leadership”, as being different from the norm,
  2. STOP them achieving positions of influence & responsibility throughout global society, or if already in situ
  3. LEARN how to behave differently towards them (“denying narcissistic supply”),
  4. ADAPT to (not) respond to their sometimes extraordinary actions & reactions (evident due to their “maladaptive” inflexibility),
  5. MINIMISE the damage & havoc they will inevitably create, and preferably replace them with far more responsible people who do meet the “Constructive Leadership” criteria, knowing they will “do whatever it takes” and go to any lengths to maintain the power they should never have been trusted with in the first place.

with much of the psychological and neuroscientific research supporting some of my “plain language” conclusions to benefit leadership election across global society such as:

  1. “Givers” being more interested on others than themselves make for far more effective and motivational leaders than “takers” more interested in themselves than others
  2. Society Needs leaders expert at making friends out of enemies than enemies out of friends and who who are well capable of love and find it impossible to hate rather than those well capable of hatred but find it impossible to love (see paper “Society Needs”)
  3. and “as far as leadership is concerned, all the intelligence in the world is of little or no value, if none of it os emotional”.

Feldman Hall et al (2015) asked “Why do we self-sacrifice to help others in distress?” 

Two competing theories have emerged,
1. one suggesting that prosocial behaviour is primarily motivated by feelings of empathic other-oriented concern,
2. the other that we help mainly because we are egoistically focused on reducing our own discomfort.

They explored the relationship between costly altruism and these two sub-processes of empathy, specifically drawing on the caregiving model to test the theory that trait empathic concern (e.g. general tendency to have sympathy for another) and trait personal distress (e.g. predisposition to experiencing aversive arousal states) may differentially drive altruistic behaviour.

They found that trait empathic concern—and not trait personal distress—motivates costly altruism, and this relationship is supported by activity in the ventral tegmental area, caudate and subgenual anterior cingulate, key regions for promoting social attachment and caregiving, believing their data helped identify the behavioural and neural mechanisms motivating costly altruism, while demonstrating that individual differences in empathic concern-related brain responses could predict real prosocial choice.

Empathy is considered to play an important role in affecting prosocial behaviour, inhibiting aggressive behaviour and has been found to be fundamental to the development of moral behaviour (Eisenberg and Eggum, 2009), so those deficient in empathy may also be deficient in developing full moral reasoning capacities.

EMOTIONAL CONTAGION OR DAMAGE?

At its most basic, global society needs leaders whose expertise includes making other people feel good about both themselves and their contribution, being predominantly encouraging by nature.

It most certainly does not need those who derive personal pleasure and feel good about themselves by way of making others feel bad, notably by discouraging, disparaging and even humiliating them. The preponderance of such “destructive” behaviour in organisations throughout all sectors global society has contributed to a belief that negative behaviour towards other people is an acceptable form of both management and leadership.

It isn’t and never will be, especially now that neuroscientific research suggests that there are many advantages arising from:

  1. positive rather than negative emotional arousal;

  2. hormonal or endocrine arousal of the “parasympathetic nervous system” (rather than the “sympathetic nervous system” or the “fight or flight” response to stressful situations) depending on whether experiences are pleasant or unpleasant and positive or negative, and

  3. neurological activation of the brain regions associated with the “default mode network” (rather than the “task positive network” or “central executive network” associated with attention-demanding tasks, analysis and problem solving) which enables people to be open to new ideas, other people and emotions, as well as considering the moral perspective of situations.

Essentially when people are predominantly in a “good mood” they perform better as individuals, are more likely to be cooperative in a social context and the group as an entirety will be more capable of proceeding with constructive organisational change.

When people are under more regular stress, which they can be in the workplace, not only are they not at their best but they may be under a degree of cognitive, perceptual and emotional impairment.

Their peripheral vision is greatly diminished from the more normal 180 to 270 degrees to as low as 30 degrees. Not only will they be less capable of “thinking straight” and their capacity for creativity and idea-generation diminished, but when exposed to new ideas or any form of change they are more likely to react with rejection rather than acceptance, which they may be more willing to consider when they are more “open-minded”.

Yet far too many workplaces involve far greater levels of stress than necessary, which this research strongly argues is totally counterproductive, especially when the stress is a result of the “Destructive” behaviour of “Disordered Leaders”, who are more likely to trigger the body’s “Sympathetic Nervous System”, starting with the amygdala within a split second of the adverse situation, before our conscious thought is even aware of the situation.

The amygdalae (right and left) are usually associated with emotion, behaviour and the processing of fear, but also seem to play a role in orchestrating emotional responses to both positive and negative stimuli and forming memories of both.

Nevertheless significant activation of the amygdalae together with other brain regions, especially those in the limbic system, are more associated with fear and negative emotions, which should not be the goal of anyone in managerial or leadership roles in any branch of society.

Of course difficult situations arise in business and organisational life, but the role of managers and leaders is to manage these matters calmly, effectively, astutely, constructively and productively, not create problems and challenges themselves to the detriment of not only everyone else involved but ultimately potentially the harmonious progress, success or even viability of the organisation itself.

Have you ever noticed how you can’t tell a selfish person they are selfish, as they just can’t seem to be able to see this for themselves?

Even when informed of their “selfish streak” by exasperated and maybe concerned others (even with the best of intentions), they fail to grasp the real significance.

They are who they are and behave the way they always have done – prioritising themselves and predominantly considering matters from the perspective of “what’s in it for me?”

Likewise it can be as impossible to explain to someone lacking in empathy and emotional depth, because they cannot properly appreciate something they have never had, especially when this involves aspects of kindness, compassion, sympathy and the warm feelings most can experience from saying or doing something which brings a smile to the face of another.

They are who they are and behave the way they always have done – treating others with disrespect varying from a lack of appreciation for their efforts to outright humiliation, as ultimately other people just aren’t that important at all and their interests and needs are irrelevant.

Yet these two factors – an innate self-centredness and a lack of warm emotions – with other related traits, notably huge self-belief and supreme confidence bordering on arrogance, whether warranted or not, can determine the nature of the workplaces they manage or lead and whether the “culture” is warmly hospitable, welcoming, harmonious, cooperative and encouraging or coldly discouraging, competitive, combative and even hostile, quite the opposite of what is expected of those in positions of authority – motivating people to perform well both individually and collectively and collaborate towards achieving group or organisational goals, usually by way of excelling at servicing those the entity was established to serve and indeed prioritise, not themselves and their insatiable self-interest.

These are amongst the reasons why the personality of leaders is important, with organisations better served by GIVERS “more interested in others than themselves” than TAKERS “more interested in themselves than others.”

In due course, however, it may become more apparent that no matter how well they succeed at masking their true tendencies, perhaps fooling most of the people most of the time, TAKERS are fundamentally not only solely interested in themselves, but incapable of showing a genuine interest in anyone else.

Other people exist to be used, abused and dismissed when they have served their purpose of being useful to the most self-centred, or have dared disagree with them, or just held a different opinion on any matter, when they can be mercilessly disparaged, slandered and have their good name damaged (described by psychologists as a “borderline distortion campaign” or “psychopathic character assassination”) by those lacking many of the more admirable character traits themselves, apparent to almost everyone except themselves.

Given that TAKERS can be expert actors, this “discovery” of their true selfishness, disinterest in others, penchant for conflict and trouble, and maybe even cruelty, is usually made too late, especially when they take self-centred decisions rather those in the best interests of the entity they mis-lead and in so doing may do more harm than good.

When they adversely alter the strategic direction and disrupt operational harmony, perhaps ignoring the advice of colleagues and coworkers, they may threaten the success or even survival of the group at large and may even need to be seen as a “VIABILITY LIABILITY”.

Even after their organisation has collapsed, with many people’s lives adversely affected, such cold and mean-hearted people can still wonder what they did wrong, immune to the consequences of their mal-leadership and untroubled by the trouble they have caused, which they may even enjoy.

This makes it all the more imperative that they are identified in advance by responsible others and denied the opportunity to demotivate people and damage relationships, rather than respect, encourage and motivate people and (at minimum) safely and successfully lead organisations in the right direction.

“Disordered Leaders” may require others to “walk on eggshells” and be exceptionally tactful and patient in their presence to avoid triggering their “emotional lability” (or moodiness), anger outbursts, need to engage in significant self-praise and penchant for criticism and conflict, which can result in a variety of forms of disharmony and disorder, including the havoc which can arise from one-sided conversations in the absence of reasonable discourse and a lack of clarity in future direction, especially when this can change (dependent on the whims of the “leader”) on a daily or even hourly basis.

The American Psychological Association defines “normality” as “a broad concept that is roughly the equivalent of mental health. Although there are no absolutes and there is considerable cultural variation, some flexible psychological & behavioural criteria can be suggested:

  1. freedom from incapacitating internal conflicts;
  2. the capacity to think & act in an organised & reasonably effective manner;
  3. the ability to cope with the ordinary demands & problems of life;
  4. freedom from extreme emotional distress, such as anxiety, despondency & persistent upset; and
  5. the absence of clear-cut symptoms of mental disorder, such as obsessions, phobias, confusion & disorientation.”

In the organisational context “normality” could refer to those who are “well capable of genuinely wanting the organisation they work for to succeed & the people who work with or for them to thrive in the pleasant and collaborative environment they contribute to”, which with many other matters this research generally associates with “Constructive Leaders”.

In stark contrast, those “Dissociative” and “Disordered Leaders”, inflexible and maladaptive, who specialise in and seem to thrive on DIScouragement, DISruption, DISagreement, DISsent, DISunity, DIScord, DISharmony, DIStrust, deceit, conflict, control, grudges, negativity  and even subtle or overt cruelty and many other forms of DIScouragement, including exclusion, denying people their opportunity to contribute to deliberations, make for DESTRUCTIVE organisational cultures, quite the OPPOSITE of that expected when people join together to achieve some common purpose.

When they “project” their failings on to others. are “moody” and emotionally labile, whose destructive tendencies can be triggered in a moment, who bring darkness and “gaslighting” rather than light filled optimism, who make enemies of friends rather than friends of enemies, difficulties out of opportunities rather than difficulties from opportunities and who no-one quite knows who or what to believe, they should have no role to play in the modern, constructive organisation (or nation).

Yet incredibly (meaning hard to believe) they do, fooling many people that they are more capable than they actually are and talk themselves into seniority of positions for which they could not be more fundamentally ill-equipped, being deeply self-centred, irresponsible and untrustworthy.

Those who cannot seem to see the point in cooperation, collaboration and compromise, should disqualify themselves from any form of seniority of role in the modern organisation, especially when they seem to prefer many forms of pointless disagreement, dissent and disruption and thrive on many forms of conflict which their warped mind sees as “success” and harmonious cooperation as “failure”.

Indeed it is the organisations who permit themselves to be mis-led by such “Disordered Leaders” who are more likely to fail.

When they do, those who engage in wrongdoing but lack a “sense of wrong” can fail to see what they did wrong, failing to see how they contributed to the failure, hence repeat their mistakes if afforded the opportunity to do so again, as they can be when others do not know how to identify them for what they really are – Disordered individuals (certainly not “team-players”)  who cannot be trusted to be Leaders or indeed hold any position of responsibility in global society

Perhaps their greatest deficiency is their inability to understand other people as real people, no different from inanimate objects or “possessions” such as their phone, home or car, being fundamentally cold by nature and lacking truly warm and generous emotions, facilitating their behaving in a callous and “ruth-less” (meaning “sympathy-free”) manner.

Lacking the ability to love and be loved or share compassion does not prevent them from seeking pity for themselves (“poor me, everyone is behaving badly towards me” / “out to get me”), constantly critical of others yet incapable of accepting an iota of criticism without a volcanic over-reaction, contributing to “Disordered Leaders” being far better at feeling and expressing hatred (holding lifetime grudges against people even for trivial reasons) and innately being more adept at “encouraging” dissent and disunity, while simultaneously spreading hatred between individuals and groups.

Society really needs to recognise that it needs leaders for whom empathy comes easily and hatred is near impossible, rather than those for whom hatred comes easily and empathy with others is near impossible.

Indeed one of the main conclusions from my decade of research into “Disordered Leaders” and the stark differences between those who practice “Destructive” or “Constructive Leadership” is that:

“As far as leadership is concerned, all the intelligence in the world is of little or no value, if none of it is emotional.”

No matter how well “Disordered Leaders” succeed in hiding their true inner coldness, often by way of (apparent) Intelligence, (shallow) Charm and (insincere) Eloquence (as their smart words are totally disconnected from promises or actions), their ICE-cold nature eventually surfaces when they or their self-interest is challenged.

Given that “getting their own way” and “winning at all costs” are their (covert) primary motivations in life, when these are in any way challenged their nature is so extraordinarily impulsive and their urge to “win” is so strong that observers may consider that they seem to have disengaged all other mental faculties and bypassed brain regions associated with rational decision-making.

This research describes their deep impilsivity as their “IPG-imperative”, appearing to cognitively ignore all other factors to achieve “Instantaneous Personal Gratification”, irrespective of the cost to or consequences for other people/stakeholders, the entity they mis-lead and (incredibly)  even themselves, as they can transpire to be the most damaged by their impetuous desire to satisfy themselves, especially when this is at the expense of others.

Rational thought (if they ever possessed this faculty in the first place, which many who work with or for “Disordered Leaders” are given frequent “reason” to doubt), with their whims changing on a daily or hourly basis, appears to be totally suspended when they are suddenly afforded the opportunity to “get their own way”.

It would not be a surprise to those who have no option but to work with or for “Disordered Leaders”  (or even those who observe the sometimes subtle or often highly apparent “bizarre” nature of their behaviour, words, actions, discussions, decisions and mis-deeds), to be informed that neuroscientists believe their brains differ from those of most other people in society, with some regions larger or smaller than typical and the huge number of connections between them somehow either disrupted, disengaged, bypassed or accelerated.

They can often be Intelligent, Charming and Eloquent, but eventually their intelligence can transpire to be misused when seen to prioritise achieving personal goals, their Charm like their emotions can be seen to be shallow and insincere, and their Eloquence be seen to be just that – smart words with no real connection with actions (past, present or future) – nor with any actual intention to do what they say they will, with commitments and promises quite meaningless and just as likely to change within the hour as their opinions, commands, whims and recollection of situations when these differ from others present.

This can leave almost everyone else quite confused and not knowing who or what to believe, until they gradually begin to realise how deceitful and manipulative such challenging people can be.

They are only interested in others while they believe they may be of use to them, especially while they may serve a purpose of contributing to their satisfying their primary goals of “getting their own way” and “winning at all costs”, totally inconsiderate of the consequences for other people, the organisation which employs them and (extraordinarily) even themselves, such is the degree of their impulsivity and inability to take the advice of others, which they may prefer to do the opposite of, nor weigh up what may be the right or wrong thing to do in situations, especially when their self-interest may be challenged, with their level of “moral reasoning” and indeed other aspects of their behaviour likened to that of primary school children.

They are always right and everyone else wrong. Indeed this can sometimes appear to be the limit of their sense of right and wrong, especially when they seem to be incapable of learning from their prior experiences, notably their mistakes, which they thus keep repeating. Groundhog Day Everyday.

Indeed there must be something wrong with those lacking a sense of wrong.

This makes it all the more wrong to trust them with positions of responsibility, especially those which may require ethical judgement, including postponing the opportunity for short-term gain when this may result in longer-term pain such as eroded trust and damaged reputation, recognised by Socrates and likened to a fire – far easier to keep lit than try to relight when permitted to be extinguished.

They can be expert criticisers, blaming everyone and anything else for their own failings,  but cannot take an iota of criticism without a significant and perhaps even volcanic overreaction.

Being “emotionally labile” (or moody), everyone else learns to avoid being critical of them and “walk on eggshells” in their presence.

They can be cold, mean-hearted and ruth-less (sympathy-free) and seem to lack the ability to understand other people in an emotional manner. Although they believe they can, they can’t and probably never will, failing to appreciate they have little or no (emotional) empathy, not realising they lack something they have never possessed, like a conscience, which may explain some of their deeply unconscionable behaviour.

As far as leadership is concerned, all the intelligence in the world is of little or no value, if none of it is emotional.

They seek pity for themselves, especially when they believe others are “out to get them”, indeed can behave in quite a pitiful manner (apparent to everyone except themselves), yet are incapable of showing concern for or sympathy to others, even when most appropriate and required.

They may even be at their happiest when making others unhappy and can be unhappy seeing others happy, so they can derive pleasure from disturbing harmony and can thrive in damaging the reputation of those who have done no wrong at all nor to them.

They can hold grudges and hate other people for little or no apparent reason, then be incapable of apologising when their many forms of manipulation and deceit are “found out”.

They seem to enjoy lying, see matters quite differently from others and may even be incapable of differentiating between fact and fiction.

They don’t say “sorry”, not only “too proud” but because they feel no remorse or guilt for words and actions which others couldn’t even contemplate.

They struggle to genuinely praise people, even for considerable achievements, instead can find some opportunity for critique, yet  can constantly seek praise for themselves. When not being praised by others they can engage in considerable self-praise, so everyone else learns to praise them even when this may be totally unwarranted and quite inappropriate.

An Irish wit laughs saying they were born with extra-long arms so they can clap themselves on the back, although for those who have to deal with them, this is no laughing matter.

These are the kind of traits associated with a variety of “Personality Disorders”.

Extraordinarily these are also the kind of people global society chooses to lead other people and organisations, although incapable of kindness.

Such “destructive” people are far too often trusted with positions of responsibility throughout international society, although both deeply untrustworthy and highly irresponsible, given their penchant for troublemaking, conflict, many forms of disharmony and damaging rather than developing relationships.

When will we learn?

Indeed when considering such people it may not be too “basic” to suggest that society needs leaders who find it easy to love and difficult to hate, rather than those who find it easy to hate and impossible to love  – anyone but themselves. 

Getting to understand such challenging people does permit others to:

(a) deal differently with them and adapt their own behaviour to diminish the harm they can do,

(b) identify them in advance to deny them the positions of power they can only abuse and will prioritise maintaining, no matter the cost to others or the organisation (or nation) they mis-lead, and

(c) make them appreciate almost everyone else, especially those “Constructive Leaders” with a genuine interest in other people and the entity they responsibly lead, whose pride is derived not from speaking of themselves and taking credit for the achievements of others, rather praising, encouraging and motivating “their people” to want to perform well and achieve the goals of the group or entity, deflecting credit for achievements to others yet accepting responsibility for their mistakes (which they own up to rather than try to cover up), while taking rational and “constructive” decisions likely to benefit both the entity and as many stakeholders as possible (not just in the short term), thus creating an admirable and progressive “culture”, building trust and enhancing reputation, all of which they take in their stride.

As people with identifiable Personality Disorders can be “found in every race, culture, society and walk of life”, one of the most critical matters for global society to appreciate is that as “Disordered Leaders” who practice “Destructive Leadership” see things differently, experience people differently, perceive many matters differently, think differently, behave differently and inhabit a quite different world from most others in society, it is imperative that they be recognised by decision-makers as being substantially different from the norm, being consummate actors hiding their true selves much of the time, hence need to be dealt with significantly differently, including denying them positions of power which they can only abuse, if they are no longer to be permitted to continue to damage the potentially even more wonderful world that everyone else inhabits, which would be far safer, fairer, cooperative, just, harmonious, pleasant and simply much better off if it were exclusively led by “Constructive Leaders”.

Smart words do not make for smart leadership when there is a deep and fundamental disconnect between words, actions and reality.

This can be especially so when leaders do not seek or listen to the astute and perhaps conciliatory advice likely to be available from their more collegiate colleagues and they show no apparent remorse nor learn from the experience when the results of their angry and impulsive behaviour, necessity to hold grudges and seek revenge, even for triviality, disadvantage other people (including those they are supposed to be leading and setting an example for) and damage relationships which someone else will subsequently have to re-build, or at least try.

Perhaps throughout human history society would appear to have mistaken charm, intelligence, smooth talking, arrogance and even callous ruthlessness for “managerial ability” due to a misconception associated with appointing highly self-centred people to leadership positions, consistently mistaking outwardly dynamic displays of confidence and eloquent talk of integrity for strength of character and intimidatory traits for strength of leadership, when in reality such fundamentally weak and perhaps childlike people may possess neither good character nor genuine managerial or leadership ability.

Children describe such traits as bullying, so why does adult society find intimidation acceptable in its managers and leaders, including in those who psychologists liken to primary school children?

It should go without saying that people like feeling appreciated and valued, yet too many managers and leaders do not make other people feel important.

When the only people they value and appreciate are themselves, the organisation or indeed any grouping or entity they are in charge of is likely to face problems it would not if it were instead managed and led by people with a different personality or “dispositional attribution”.

In stark contrast with situations involving inclusion, persuasion and respect, a group intimidated into only doing what the dominant leader wants is unlikely to evolve, especially when “getting their own way” is very important to their leader.

If people are afraid to “speak up” and uninspired to suggest a variety of alternative ideas or courses of action, how likely is more visionary progress?

Intimidation and aggression produce fear, anxiety and discouragement, yet somehow people who regularly rather than exceptionally put-down, humiliate and disrespect others can extraordinarily be associated with “strength” of management or leadership rather than weakness of character and indeed perhaps even a “Personality Disorder”.

While many people in society feel good from making others feel good, what needs to be better and indeed more globally appreciated is that there may be something wrong with those who themselves feel good when they make others feel bad.

Indeed while most people are at their happiest seeing others happy, especially as a result of something they have said or done, there are also those who can be at their happiest seeing and especially making others unhappy.

Those who have experienced such people in organisational life and seen the damage they can do to groups that used co-operate  and collaborate but now can be “at each others’s throats” given the conflict that such people thrive on, may well wonder why some encourage cooperation and others spread conflict?

It should be unnecessary to suggest that global society and its many types of organisations need managers and leaders who make friends out of enemies rather than enemies of of friends.

Nor should it be necessary to suggest that those in positions of responsibility should be those who find it easy to love and be be loved and impossible to hate, rather than those for whom hatred and enmity comes naturally and love and kindness are near-impossible, indeed which they may also see as a sign of weakness, which actually describes those who are innately “ruth-less” meaning compassion or sympathy-free. 

But these suggestions are alas necessary because a  small minority of society – those with a specific range of Personality Disorders – thrive more on troublemaking and conflict than peacemaking and cooperation and prefer disharmony  to harmony.

Not being equipped with the full range of “warm emotions”, such as being lacking or even deficient in both empathy and emotional intelligence, people this research refers to as “Disordered Leaders”, the outcomes arising from their “Destructive Leadership” will inevitably not transpire to be what those who selected or elected imagined would be the case when they were initially chosen, often because they appeared to be Intelligent, Charming and Eloquent, even if they were subsequently discovered to be “ICE-cold”.

This can especially be the case when they then go to “any lengths”, irrespective of the consequences for other people or the organisation they mis-lead, to maintain or  hold on to the positions of power they crave but cannot perform in the manner expected, potentially going on to cause even more damage and perhaps wreak further havoc, no matter the nature of the entity or the nation, race or culture they inhabit, forcing many others to ponder “what is really going on here?” as their behaviour can well differ from what many would consider to be”the norm”, or indeed “normal”.

Fortunately it is their very “maladaptive” or inflexible nature which can make them highly predictable, but only when others learn what traits, behaviour, words and (mis) deeds to look for.

So what may actually be happening positively or negatively in the minds, brains, emotions and bodies of people who are either respected or disrespected by Constructive or Destructive managers and leaders?

When people are made to feel good or bad, experience positive or negative feelings, what is actually happening in their brains?

As it transpires advances in neuroscience techniques over the last generation or so have allowed researchers to form the opinion that different brain regions and indeed collections and connections between brain regions referred to as “systems” are either activated, deactivated or remain inactive during experiences with people who make them feel good or bad.

From studies which asked business executives to recall experiences with “Constructive Leaders”, one finding was that our “mirror neuron networks” seem to be activated when recalling satisfactory experiences with “Constructive Leaders” and deactivated or suppressed when recalling less favourable experiences with “Destructive Leaders”.

Mirror neurons were first discovered when macaque monkeys were shown humans or other monkeys performing motor tasks, such as using their hands to do something. An unexpected finding was that certain brain regions were activated not only when the monkeys performed the task, but also when they saw others doing the same thing.

Humans were then also found to activate certain brain regions when watching someone else perform a goal-directed action, which has led researchers to believe that something similar happens when people are perceiving the intentions of others and understanding the feelings of others and thus may be the foundation for empathy and communication.

Like many areas of neuroscience, damage to mirror neurons may help inform why some people with specific disabilities struggle with communication, so could even explain why some managers are ineffective, especially in their inability to properly understand and communicate with those they are supposed to be leading.

So Constructive Leaders with the ability to inspire others seem to be capable of activating the mirror neurons of those they lead, while those who fail to inspire or maybe even terrify them, Destructive Leaders, do not.

Another finding was that emotions are contagious, both positive and negative, which allows for social interaction.

By way of a process of behavioural mimicry, people are able to pick up the behaviour of others, which they can then replicate or repeat.

However people are also able to pick up the emotions of others by way of a process called emotional contagion. For instance our ability to sense the good or bad mood or sadness or joy of another is an extremely quick split-second automatic reaction by way of our von Economo or spindle cell neurons which contribute to the ability of people to transmit and receive emotions.

The extension of this, especially in groups, is social contagion which doesn’t just pick up on the behaviour and emotions of others, but also when these change. So when others see someone change their behaviour, such as giving up cigarettes, they are capable of changing their own as a result.

Emotional contagion is constantly happening, such as in a (less inspirational) meeting when one person yawns or folds their arms, others may quickly do the same.

This has an impact on management and leadership. With followers watching their leader more closely than the leader is capable of watching the larger group of followers, what the leader says or does is more likely to be contagious amongst the group than what any one follower may say or do.

Emotional contagion is therefore fundamental to building or rebuilding successful relationships and is thus one of the key ingredients of more effective leadership, given that those we describe as “Constructive Leaders” are not only “in tune” with their own emotions but are also capable of sensing and responding appropriately to the emotions of others.

This also supports one of the main arguments of this research, which is that emotionally shallow “Disordered Leaders” cannot or should not be trusted with the responsibility for the lives and emotions of those they are tasked with leading, when they may be unable to manage even their own emotions.

This is especially if they are “emotionally labile” or moody, blowing hot and cold and forcing followers to be constantly “walking on eggshells” in their presence.

In such instances it is the followers who need to be particularly emotionally aware, to keep the leader and indeed entire group on an even-keel, given the inability or mental deficiency of the leader to be aware of their own and the emotions of those they lead.

In these situations, “managing upwards” may never be more required or indeed more challenging and it is the “hemodynamic sympathetic systems” of the followers which need to be activated, especially when they leader may be incapable of sympathy.

TASK POSITIVE OR NEGATIVE?

There are two brain systems that seem to act like a see-saw, one up when the other is down and vice versa. believed to be regulated by a third SALIENCE system or network (SN).

One is the “CENTRAL EXECUTIVE NETWORK” or “TASK POSITIVE NETWORK” which is the part of the brain that allows us to focus on attention-demanding tasks and engage in analysis and problem solving, also known as the Frontoparietal network (FPN).

The downside of the activation of the CEN/TPN/FPN is that our capacity to be creative and engage in social interaction is diminished. This is because the see-saw effect means activation of the “Task Positive Network” seems to operate in parallel with the deactivation of the “Default Mode Network”.

When people engage in social tasks, such as being kind, helping others or seeking help, they activate the Social Network which is a part of the Default Mode Network in their brain. This set of connected regions enables people to be open to new ideas, other people and emotions, as well as considering the moral perspective of situations.

The DEFAULT MODE NETWORK”, also known as the Default Network or Default State Network, like the Task Positive Network, is a network of brain regions which interact and are highly correlated with each other and distinct from other networks, including being negatively correlated with the Task Positive Network.

It is known as the Default Mode Network because it activates “by default” when someone is not involved in a task, not focused on the outside world and the person is relaxing and their brain is at “wakeful rest”, such as when daydreaming and mind-wandering.

One part of it is also known as the “Social Network”, as it can be activated when someone is thinking about themselves, thinking about someone else, remembering instances from the past and considering the future.

While sometimes referred to as the Task Negative Network, being de-activated when people are occupied with attention-demanding tasks and more associated with involuntary actions, it can be activated during other types of goal-oriented and more autobiographical tasks and social working memory.

The “Task Positive/Central Executive” and “Social/Default” networks are, by and large, independent and suppress each other.

Yet everyone, especially experts, managers and leaders, need to be able to use both the Task Positive and Social/Default Networks to be effective at setting and achieving goals, social interaction and people management as well as creativity and not only imagining the future but also taking steps to ensure the group gets there.

Two other systems are the “Sympathetic Nervous System” which is quite the opposite of the “Parasympathetic Nervous System”, both parts of the “Autonomic Nervous System” which release various hormones and neurotransmitters depending on whether experiences are pleasant or unpleasant and positive or negative.

Despite its name, the Sympathetic Nervous System or SNS is actually the body’s “fight or flight” response to stressful situations, whether trivial or severe.

We may not realise it, but we actually experience minor stressful situations during a day including when someone or something annoys us or we are facing a task we would rather not do and may tend to defer, due to procrastination, or can’t make our mind up what to do given a variety of choices.

Indeed we can change from one state to another in under a second, with our brain responding before we are even aware that it and our body are about to react to the situation.

The fight or flight response or the “Sympathetic Nervous System” actually involves activation of the “Hypothalamus Pituitary Adrenal Axis”, amongst which involves secretion of three endocrines, notably Epinephrine, Norepinephrine and Cortisol.

Epinephrine and Norepinephrine are both hormones and neurotransmitters, acting as vasoconstrictors.

Vaso” means blood vessel and “Vasoconstriction” refers to the narrowing or constriction of the blood vessels, which can stabilize or raise blood pressure, reduce loss of body heat in cold temperatures, send more nutrients and oxygen to organs that need them, protect the body against blood and fluid loss and generally control how blood is distributed through the body.

Vasoconstriction reduces the volume or space inside affected blood vessels, so blood flow is also reduced. At the same time, the resistance or force of blood flow is raised, which causes higher blood pressure.

Shock is the body’s response to emergency conditions which all cause low blood pressure. The body’s first response is to protect the brain, heart and lungs by narrowing the blood vessels in the hands, feet, and limbs. This emergency vasoconstriction temporarily raises blood pressure and keeps blood flowing to the organs most needed for life.

As blood pressure goes up, so to does the pulse rate and breathing starts to get more shallow.

Epinephrine is pulling blood from capillaries, fingertips, nose, ears and extremities, to go to the large muscle groups in the arms so the body is better prepared to fight.

Norepinephrine sends blood to the large muscle groups in the legs the body can run away from trouble, or flight.

However blood is also being pulled from capillaries in the brain, so during this build up of stress, people don’t have access to all of their neural networks.

At the same time cortisol steroids are going into the blood stream which has a variety of effects.

While it is the body’s natural anti inflammatory tool, which can keep the body going when experiencing pain and helps convert fat cells to glucose to be available for energy when most needed, it also has detrimental effects. It lowers the immune system so the body is more prone to disease and also inhibits neurogenesis which is the growth of new neural tissue.

This means that when people are under more regular stress, which they can be in the workplace, not only are they not at their best but they may be under a degree of cognitive, perceptual and emotional impairment.

Without regular and periodic positive “renewal” experiences, chronic stress can contribute to deteriorating personal performance in whatever area of life the stress is created.

In stark contrast, “Constructive Leaders” are far more likely to trigger the body’s “Parasympathetic Nervous System” with far more positive effects arising from their far more affirmative leadership.

Indeed renewal of the body especially after stressful situations is activated by the Parasympathetic Nervous System, which is the neural hormonal endocrine activation that allows the body to rebuild itself.

While a positive, constructive, considerate and even caring personal “disposition” can bring out and inspire the best in people, the opposite negative, destructive, inconsiderate, uncaring and self-centred disposition can bring out the worst, which can be the response sought by “Disordered Leaders” who prefer many forms of conflict, trouble and disharmony over harmonious cooperation and collaboration, which should disqualify them from consideration for senior roles throughout global society but (extraordinarily) doesn’t.

Indeed “Destructive Leadership” can even bring out the best in the best of people in the worst of environments (who for decades I have described as “Corporate Saints”).

So why do we tolerate and even applaud intimidatory and fear-inducing behaviour in organisations and workplaces, although neuroscientists describe this as switching off people’s creativity and cooperative abilities?

Might we misinterpret what contributes to “strength” or “weakness” of both “character” and “leadership ability”, as we somehow associate intimidation and even humiliation of others with “strength” and a sympathetic interest in other people and their needs as “weakness”?

Might we misinterpret self-centred arrogance and shallow charm as being somehow indicative of “strength of leadership”, when what is really expected of leaders is a more selfless and genuine interest in the organisation (or nation) and all its people, together with a determination to create, oversee and even inspire sensible and harmonious progress, while not seeking much personal credit for performing the role expected of them, perhaps even deflecting warranted praise to those they lead while accepting responsibility for their failures?

But as most organisations cannot have an MRI scanner in their basement to assess candidates for seniority of position, fortunately “disordered” people “give the game away” themselves by way of what they (being “maladaptive”) cannot change – their own behaviour.

The prevalence of this minority in important roles throughout global society suggests that many who select or elect people to senior positions of responsibility are (currently) unaware what behavioural traits to look for to IDENTIFY such highly untrustworthy and deeply irresponsible and self-centred people, in order to DENY them positions of power that they can only mis-use and abuse, being granted it for the purpose of serving others although only capable of being self-serving.

Their self-centred abuse of power is as inevitable as the sunrise and sunset, as the fascinating field of “Personality Disorders” seems to be one of the world’s best kept secrets (a matter this research intends to rectify), especially as “Disordered Leaders” with their quite extra-ordinary self-confidence believe that they are the reason for the sunrise as they derive pleasure from darkening the lives of many others unfortunate to work with them, or be subject to their peculiar (but quite predictable) words, empty promises, disconnected actions, impulsive reactions, mis-deeds, general untrustworthiness and irresponsible decision-making, typically the opposite of what better-informed advisers suggest and indeed what many others want them to do.

Those who know them well fully expect them to be Consistently Contrary and Perversity Personified.

Given that “Constructive Leadership” is well beyond their very limited horizon, their peculiar mindset ensures that the people they are responsible for are likely to live in a near permanent winter (of discontent), only briefly experiencing the sunshine associated with the summer months when their “leader” is away.

Indeed the one season followers (other than the most sycophantic) wish on their “Disordered Leader” is the “Fall”, as until their leaders fall from both grace and power there is little real future for the business, organisation, entity, nation or the people they mis-lead, as they cannot fool all of the people all of the time, then prove to be extraordinarily difficult to replace, as maintenance of the power they never properly used for the purpose intended becomes their over-arching priority.

Which is why I strongly argue that “Prevention is preferable to the improbability of cure”.

Global society needs to learn how to identify “Disordered Leaders”, with no real interest in anyone other then themselves,  in advance of trusting them with responsible roles which their extraordinary degree of irresponsibility and untrustworthiness should disqualify them from consideration for.

Global society needs leaders who give rather than take pleasure, with empathy and warm emotions (well capable of love & incapable of hatred, not those who are well capable of hatred & incapable of love), to accept responsibility for its organisations & institutions and “motivate a group of people to achieve common goals” , or what is commonly referred to as “leadership”.

It is difficult to tell a selfish person that they are self-centred, as they cannot see this for themselves, living life the way they always have done – prioritising themselves over others and perhaps treating other people in a cold-hearted manner.

Similarly, how can others tell someone without empathy that they lack something they have never possessed and are more than likely to never experience? Lacking warm emotions and the ability to genuinely love and be loved permits such people to behave in a “ruth-less” manner towards others, meaning sympathy and compassion-free, also behaviour which some mistakenly believe to be useful or even necessary to achieve business “success”.

The reality is that such behaviour may satisfy the most ruth-less but can be quite counterproductive when it results in people performing below their best and eventually, becoming demotivated, not really wanting to contribute to achieving common goals, quite the opposite end-result than that expected from “leaders”.

Throughout my entire career I have argued against ruthlessness having and validity or merits as “success” within a group is better achieved by way of co-operation and collaboration. Indeed for over 20 years I have been suggesting to entrepreneurs and university students that “treating people with the respect you would like to be treated yourself” is far more likely to achieve whatever successes any group may be seeking.

Now though, following a decade of psychological and neuroscientific study and research, what I would add is that:

“it is not that ruthlessness is necessary for business success, quite the contrary, rather that some who happen to be “successful” in business, happen to be quite ruthless by nature”.

This sends out quite the wrong signal to those who look up to such people as being role-models, especially when they themselves come to believe that disrespecting, disparaging and even humiliating others is part and parcel of either management or leadership. It isn’t.

It also depends on what “success” is deemed to be, such as in terms of:

  1. – individualistic achievement of position, title, power, prestige, wealth (even if disrespected by some or many of those who are led, including for misusing the position for personal advantage or gain);
  2. – personal respect, especially when associated with “good character”, often achieved by way of “showing an interest” in other people and prioritising their interests and needs;
  3. – organisational (or national) progress, in terms of satisfying the goals for which the entity was founded (satisfied customers or citizens), especially when their interests are prioritised over the self-interest of leaders and/or management teams who do the right thing for themselves but not necessarily the “primary stakeholders”.

At the end of the day, success and power without “moral authority” and the “genuine respect” of “followers” is “shallow”, just like the emotional depth of those who derive personal pleasure and even greatly enjoy being “ruth-less”, lacking the emotional intelligence to appreciate how counterproductive and demotivational this can be, quite the opposite of both the behaviour and end-result expected of those holding the important role of “leader”, irrespective of the type, size or location of the enterprise.

Bullies, self-centred by nature, who thrive on intimidation just do not have a role to play in the modern, efficient organisation, especially when you do not need to be a neuroscientist to appreciate that people better respond to encouragement than discouragement.

Global society needs to deny people who display what psychologists term “consistent irresponsibility”, well capable of routinely acting against the common good and doing so with what they refer to as “emotional impunity”, the opportunity of holding positions of authority they will inevitably misuse and abuse, no matter the nature or nationality of the entity.

Global society needs to discontinue trusting those incapable of successfully managing their own emotions with responsibility for the lives, welfare and emotions of others.

Global society needs to discontinue assigning responsibility for its businesses, organisations and nations to amongst the most self-centred, difficult, proud, perverse, contrary, dishonest, untrustworthy and irresponsible people possible, described as “Disordered Leaders” who practice “Destructive Leadership”.

Many on the surface who can appear to be Intelligent, Charming and Eloquent, may use these to hide a fundamentally ICE-cold interior, lacking the one quality essential in anyone tasked with leading and managing other people – basic humanity.

I believe this to be a matter of deep significance not only for society but maybe even humanity, if the most inhumane are not to be permitted to persistently prevail over the most humane and cause a wide variety of damage to people’s welfare, interpersonal trust and organisational and even national reputation.

Psychiatrists and Psychologists explain that a “Personality Disorder” is notoriously difficult to treat, technically not even referred to as a “mental illness”, many of which can now be reasonably successfully treated.

Yet the “damage” done to other people and the very institutions and fabric of society by “disordered” people can greatly exceed that caused by those diagnosed to be mentally ill, although some with a “Personality Disorder” may also have a mental illness such as paranoid schizophrenia (such as Hitler).

Most “disordered” people are never even required to meet a psychiatrist or psychologist, for a variety of reasons, including:

  1. often because others do not associate their way of thinking and behaving with a “Personality Disorder”,
  2. those “responsible” people who do try to “do something to fix the problem” can often be disbelieved and even discredited, no matter how strong a case they present,
  3. especially if the conscientious “problem solver” is in a more junior role than the  “disordered” person and
  4. those in more senior positions they report the matter to do not understand the nature of “Personality Disorders” themselves,
  5. nor what traits to look for and how to identify such people by way of their own behaviour,
  6. nor appreciate the critical importance of denying “disordered” people the power they crave but can only abuse,
  7. and the degree of trouble they can cause and conflict they can create,
  8. often “behind the scenes” and in a covert manner resulting in other innocent and perhaps good and well-intentioned people being blamed for the many problems which arise, as
  9. the “disordered” person is likely to have used their considerable but shallow “charm” to ensure that the most influential people are “on their side”, even if based on fiction, lies, deceit and considerable self-promotion, as
  10. the character of the “disordered” person is such that they are likely to have already tried to criticise, demean, disparage and confuse other people, including those they may (wrongly) believe to be “rivals” or critics,
  11. as they strive to damage the “responsible” person’s own character or reputation,
  12. so no-one knows quite who or what to believe;
  13. Indeed it can be the “responsible” person or people disbelieved, demoted or even fired, and the “disordered” person believed, promoted, elected or hired,
  14. especially when those who appointed the “disordered” person in the first place do not want to admit that they may have erred,
  15. or those who had been warned in advance and ignored the warnings lack the courage to deal with the consequences themselves,
  16. or have been sufficiently threatened and “intimidated” by the “disordered” person that they are scared of the retribution if they do try to deal with the problems they invariably create;
  17. Yet it can be the “responsible” person or people (with a strong conscience who really want to do the best for their organisation, often with genuine leadership potential themselves) who can be disadvantaged,
  18. while the “disordered” person (perhaps lacking a conscience who cares little for the organisation or its people, only self) can be advantaged,
  19. as when the “responsible” people of integrity with a powerful sense of justice and fairplay, good morals and ethics, ultimately believe they have no further option but to “blow the whistle” (“escalating matters” internally first then when this fails, externally),
  20. it can be they, the most responsible and conscionable who genuinely care for their organisation, its people and the manner in which it makes progress, who often “lose out” personally in the process, sometimes in a very distressing manner for themselves and even their family too,
  21. while it can be the most self-centred and irresponsible, the most unethical and immoral, the most “powerful” and power-hungry, who care little for their organisation or its people nor sensible progress, indeed  “couldn’t care less” about other people at all, who perhaps lack a conscience and behave in an unconscionable manner,
  22. who can be seen to go from strength to strength and “win”
  23. as every matter to them can be a “game or contest to be won” even if this involves “defending the indefensible” and “denying the undeniable”,
  24. especially when their primary but most covert goals in life can include “getting their own way” and “winning at all costs”,
  25. irrespective of the consequences for other people, their organisation or nation (and incredibly sometimes even themselves), as once they have “personally prevailed” nothing else really seems to matter to them, still preferring to criticise and disparage rather than praise and encourage those they mis-lead,
  26. even if their fundamentally combative nature leads to “Counterproductively Competitive & Combative Corporate Cultures” whereby conflict between individuals and even entire departments is sought, although this hinders cooperation and smooth, sensible, rational progress and demotivates employees,
  27. switching off their creativity and switching on their sycophantic subservience, requiring them to “walk on eggshells”, do what they are told rather than have their constructive opinions and ideas sought,
  28. more likely to be ignored and the opposite, sub-optimal option instead chosen, not because its merits were unappreciated but because the “great idea” was not originated by the “disordered” person themselves, who in their own mind are the only person that counts; 
  29. Once the “disordered” leader has been seen to “personally prevail”, matters such as trust, reputation, integrity, professionalism, ethics, morals, doing the right thing for the employees, any stakeholders or safeguarding the future of the organisation all fly out the window, if they were even in the room (or  mind of the “disordered” leader”) in the first place,
  30. as when their self-interest, pride or prestige is challenged, no such matters are their concern, let alone priority, more likely to involve “winning at all costs” and “getting their own way, irrespective of the consequences”,
  31. indeed they may tend to exclude and criticise rather than include and encourage their very best people,
  32. making life difficult if not harrowing and “impossible” for the many “responsible” and conscientious people, team-players genuinely concerned for the organisation, its people and their future, hence
  33. one of my main conclusions concerning the promotion or appointment of such “impossible” and irresponsibly self-centred and potentially “disordered” people to senior positions in the businesses, organisations and even nations of global society, is that: “PREVENTION IS FAR PREFERABLE TO THE IMPROBABILITY OF CURE.”

Such scenarios, or elements of them, are alas far too common in the organisations and entities of global society. If I as a lone individual have observed them far too frequently during my own career, how frequent are they?

How often do those who have no option but to adapt their own behaviour to sycophantically satisfy the whims of “Disordered Leaders” find that their own emotional lives can be damaged as as a result?

How often are talented and conscientious people forced to try and take their skills elsewhere (if they can), preferably to more satisfying environments where their talents are better appreciated and utilised by “Constructive Leaders”?

Perhaps we will never know, except that such situations are far too common and indeed prevalent in far too many organisations, at all levels, because they mistakenly chose the wrong type of people to become supervisors, team-leaders, managers, senior executives and even chief executives, secretary generals, heads, priors, principals, editors, captains or whatever the leadership title may be.

It took the author 25 years in industry to realise, thanks to a psychologist while planning a “Corporate Conscience” conference in Dublin in 2013, that he had worked with over 50 “Destructive Leaders” internationally during his own career and, having witnessed at first hand the covert manner by which they cause disagreement, disharmony and trouble, feels a responsibility to share what he has learned about these fundamentally “ruth-less” and dangerous people, how they can be identified in advance and what admirable traits society should instead look for in appointing “Constructive Leaders”.

When the potentially more wonderfully fair, just, co-operative, united, harmonious, caring (for people and planet), calm, tranquil and peaceful world we share, including the unnecessarily combative, individualistic, disconnected, divided, unfair and unjust branches of global society, led by the wrong type of people, troublemakers in disguise who prioritise their needs over the entity they mis-lead…

…better learns how to identify such ICE-cold people, often Intelligent, Charming and Eloquent, but ultimately primarily Interested in themselves, Cold (maybe Cruel) and Empathy-free, then deny them the power they will inevitably mis-use, it will perhaps better appreciate that:

“Prevention is infinitely preferable to the improbability of cure”.

Just like one of the greatest cognitive or mental disabilities of “Disordered Leaders”, an inability to learn from their prior experiences (so they keep repeating the same mistakes day after day), do we never seem to learn when those who seemed to possess many of the required credentials transpire to be incapable of providing the constructive vision, imaginative direction, sensible and rational decision-making, inspirational motivation, admirable example, integrity, wisdom, conscience, cooperation, harmony and “tone at the top” expected of “leaders”?

“Disordered Leaders”, because they practice “Destructive Leadership”, not least because they are TAKERS who prioritise themselves over those they mis-lead, possess power but lack proper authority, so their followers feel compelled to do so.

In stark contrast, for the many far more acceptable and indeed attractive aspects associated with “Constructive Leadership”, not least because followers have many reasons to believe that their leader has a genuine interest in them and their endeavours, often being a GIVER more interested in others than self, “Constructive Leaders” possess the power they can be trusted to use for the purposes intended and the moral authority to astutely lead the entity in the right direction and inspire their people to actually want to follow them and the example of an admirable “tone at the top” they set.

Perhaps the ultimate irony is that those who act in a powerfully authoritarian manner may lack authority, while those who lead in a non-authoritarian manner may be perceived by those they are responsible for to possess authority, seen to use their power for the constructive purpose intended.

INSTEAD OF THE SELF-CENTREDNESS, ARROGANCE, DOMINANCE, INTIMIDATION, FEAR, DISCOURAGEMENT, NECESSITY TO “WALK ON EGGSHELLS” AND ULTIMATELY (EXTRAORDINARILY) THE DEMOTIVATION ASSOCIATED WITH THE NEGATIVITY ARISING FROM “DESTRUCTIVE LEADERS”, WELL CAPABLE OF TAKING THE ENTITY DOWN THE WRONG PATHS JUST TO SATISFY THEIR INSATIABLE PERSONAL NEEDS, BUSINESS AND INDEED GLOBAL SOCIETY NEEDS “CONSTRUCTIVE LEADERS” WITH THE VISION TO REALISE HOW GREAT THE GROUP THEY ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR COULD BE, THE INSIGHT TO KNOW HOW TO GET THERE….

integrity to set the right tone at the top, moral compass to guide everyone in the right direction, creativity to explore new opportunities, (emotional) empathy to understand people in all their humanity, interest in others to willingly provide support and encouragement, 

perception to offer astute guidance and advicewisdom to know what to change and when, humility to admit to error rather than persist with doing the wrong thing,  patience to calmly resolve rather than instigate and exacerbate conflict, astuteness to seek alternative viewpoints, opinions and options while ensuring disagreement is generally harmonious and constructive,

courage to tackle the issues others might ignore and to own-up not cover-up when things go wrong and learn from the experience, tact to deal with matters diplomatically, modesty to deflect praise to others yet accept responsibility for their errors,

emotional intelligence to know how best to deal with the wide variety of people and situations which arise and bring people along in the right direction, 

with the enthusiastic personality which creates the positive culture and sets the admirable example which encourages and maybe even inspires everyone to want to genuinely cooperate within and between collaborative teams and follow their leader in top gear, because at the end of the day,

as far as leadership is concerned, all the intelligence in the world is of little or no value, if none of it is emotional.

The far too prevalent absence of such admirable traits may be indicative of one simple fact – the business, organisation, entity (or even nation) is led by the wrong person – more capable of doing harm than good, damaging rather than building relationships and more likely to (perhaps irreparably) impair trust and imperil reputation, especially when they prioritise themselves over those they are tasked with leading and fail to appreciate that this is not the reason that why they were trusted with such an onerous responsibility.

At the end of the day, it isn’t all about them, although they persist in thinking that it is.

Prevention is far preferable to the improbability of cure.

 

ADDENDUM – INDICATION OF SEVERITY OF PSYCHOPATHIC DYSFUNCTION AND WHY EVERY EFFORT NEEDS TO BE MADE TO ENSURE THEY DO NOT ACHIEVE SENIORITY OF POSITION

 

KOHLBERG’S STAGES OF MORAL DEVELOPMENT

Empathy is considered to play an important role in affecting prosocial behaviour, inhibiting aggressive behaviour and has been found to be fundamental to the development of moral behaviour (Eisenberg and Eggum, 2009), so those deficient in empathy may also be deficient in developing full moral reasoning capacities.

US psychologist Lawrence Kohlberg proposed that people personally develop through six stages and three progressive levels of moral reasoning:

  1. The lowest Pre-Conventional level of moral development involves people, especially primary school children, making moral decisions based on obedience to an authority figure (obedience and punishment orientation) and the prospect of avoiding punishment before progressing to prioritising achieving their own desires (self-interest orientation).
  2. The second level is that prevalent in society, hence termed Conventional, associated initially with adolescents gaining the approval of others (interpersonal accord and conformity orientation or ‘good girl/good boy’) and as they progress to adulthood accepting and internalising society’s customs or norms of right and wrong while respecting and abiding by law and order, without deep reflection on their fairness (authority and social-order maintaining orientation).
  3. The highest Post-Conventional level involves a minority of people who make moral choices based on social contracts from a genuine interest in others and respect for laws which if unjust may need changing (social contract orientation). An even smaller minority progress to the highest level where they can generalise moral principles beyond their own specific interests (universal ethical principles). Such people could be described as being principled and having a social conscience.

 

DIRTY DOZEN TRAITS

Combined from Prof Robert D Hare’s “Without Conscience” and Dr Martha Stout’s “The Sociopath Next Door”:

Taking a cross-section of a dozen of the traits identified by Hare and Stout’s many decades of research and clinical experience with those displaying evidence of one or more Personality Disorders and comparing these with Kohlberg’s 3 levels, roughly considered as

(a) avoiding punishment and prioritising self-interest,

(b) appreciating society but rigidly obeying laws & rules with little reflection on fairness, and

(c) universal ethical principles and social conscience beyond personal interests,

would not appear to suggest such people have progressed in their moral development beyond the self-interest level, indeed that associated by psychiatrists, psychologists and sociologists with primary school children.

Yet they are nevertheless still chosen for responsible roles throughout global society which their deep irresponsibility and profound disinterest in other people should disqualify them from even consideration for, if only they were less “invisible” by way of many of their observable behavioural traits become better associated with a range of Personality Disorders and indeed a fundamental character flaw, rather than being mistaken for “strength of leadership” which intimidation in its many forms should never be associated with.

Research has proven their inability to experience and respond to fear or anxiety in the manner that most people can (due to a dysfunction in and between areas of the brain including the Amygdala, Ventromedial Pre Frontal Cortex or vmPFC and other elements of the Default Mode Network), neural regions also associated with “empathy” and the related “moral decision-making”, both of which research has unsurprisingly also shown to be impaired in psychopaths.

As they are relatively un-encumbered by (to them inconvenient or irrelevant) matters such as morality, conscience and indeed feelings for other people, they lack the internal behavioural controls which might otherwise prevent them from behaving in a fear-inducing manner towards others, especially impulsively when their self-interest or simply “getting their own way” is threatened, behaviour which many others in society just could not even consider, and certainly not as a matter of routine.

Indeed those who seem to lack a “sense of what may be wrong” may well have “something wrong” with them, even if many others (due to no fault of their own) fail to appreciate what “something wrong” or “something missing” could actually be – a “Personality Disorder” – which (for the moment anyway) can appear to be one of the world’s best kept secrets.

  1. EMOTIONAL POVERTY/SHALLOW EMOTIONS: This subgroup or cohort of society “seem to suffer a kind of emotional poverty that limits the range and depth of their feelings”, with “no emotional attachments to other people, none at all”, and for whom the “feelings of other people are of no concern”, who are “not genuinely interested in bonding with anyone”, “cannot love”, “cannot worry about other people”, “care nothing for others”, [are as] “cold as ice… with fundamentally scary iciness”, are “incapable of gratitude toward anyone, can derive no real joy from being with [their children] or watching them grow up”.
  2. LACK OF EMPATHY: whose “profound lack of empathy” contributes to a “stunning lack of concern for the devastating effects their actions have on others”, who are “not deterred by the possibility that their actions may cause hardship or risk for others”.
  3. LACK OF GUILT & REMORSE: who are “consistently irresponsible with no remorse”, who “can do anything at all without feeling guilty”, for whom “lack of remorse or guilt is associated with a remarkable ability to rationalise their behaviour” and “will greatly minimise or even deny the consequences to others”.
  4. IRRESPONSIBILITY & DENIAL: who are “unlikely to spend much time weighing the pros and cons of a course of action or considering the possible consequences”, “infamous for their refusal to acknowledge responsibility for the decisions they make, or for the outcomes of their decisions”, who “shrug off personal responsibility for actions that cause shock and disappointment to [those] who have played by the rules” and “have handy excuses for their behaviour, and in some cases deny that it happened at all”.
  5. LIVE BY THEIR OWN RULES: who prefer to “make their own rules” and “consider the rules and expectations of society inconvenient and unreasonable”, for whom “obligations and commitments mean nothing” and “do not honour formal or implied commitments to people, organisations or principles”.
  6. DECEIT AND MANIPULATION: are “deceitful and manipulative”, for whom “lying, deceiving and manipulation are natural talents”, who lie “artfully and constantly with absolutely no sense of guilt that might be given away in body language or facial expression” and “when caught in a lie or challenged with the truth, are seldom perplexed or embarrassed, they simply change their stories”.
  7. IMPULSIVE AND LACK SELF-CONTROL: who display poor behaviour controls, are impulsive requiring “immediate satisfaction, pleasure or relief”, “do things on the spur of the moment” and are “impulsively aggressive with a reckless disregard for the safety of others” yet can also be sensitive and proud, being “highly reactive to perceived insults or slights”.
  8. RISK TAKERS with a “preference for risky situations and choices, and their ability to convince others to take risks along with them”,”a greater than normal need for stimulation,” and so “often takes big risks and guiltlessly charms others into taking them too.”
  9. WINNING & CONTROLLING: who are “intellectually gifted, fabulous at the gamesmanship of business”, for whom the “only thing [they] really want is to win”, for whom “life is reduced to a contest, with other human beings nothing more than game pieces”, who are “brilliant at winning, can dominate and bend others to [their] will” and for whom “playing the game” & “controlling others – winning – is more compelling than anything (or anyone) else”.
  10. SELF-CENTRED: who “see themselves as the centre of the universe”, with “a narcissistic and grossly inflated view of their own self-worth and importance, a truly astounding egocentricity and sense of entitlement”.
  11. CHARMING AND ARTICULATE: yet who are “often witty and articulate”, “can be amusing and entertaining”, are “often very likeable and charming”, “fast-talking, self-assured, at ease in social situations, cool under pressure, unfazed by the possibility of being found out, and totally ruthless”, and who use “their charm and chameleon-like abilities to cut a wide swath through society and leave a wake of ruined lives behind them” while “refusing to acknowledge that they have a problem”.
  12. CONSCIENCE-FREE: who “secretly has no conscience”, “the pesky inner voice that helps us to resist temptation and to feel guilty when we don’t”; whose “most impressive talent is the ability to conceal from nearly everyone the true emptiness of his heart and to command the passive silence of those few who do know”, because “being devoid of conscience is impossible for most human beings to fantasise about” with the consequence that “conscienceless people are nearly always invisible to us”.

 

These “Dirty Dozen” behavioural traits were extracted and combined (during 2015/16) from a variety of chapters from two highly recommended books on the “hidden” dangers associated with psychopathy, which both Stout and Hare have done a superb job in “revealing” so that “conscienceless people may be less invisible to us”.

None of these dozen combined traits associated with “Disordered Leaders” who (mal)practice “Destructive Leadership” display aspects of humanity which decision-makers would advocate or willingly select in those chosen for any form of supervisory, managerial, leadership or indeed any responsible role in any area of global society, due to their considerable degree of “consistent irresponsibility”.

Yet these are positions in society they are considered to be well capable of not only seeking and holding, but also progressing further personally from, even to the very top of organisations and nations, given that these “charming liars” can be:

“found in every race, culture, society & walk of life.” (Hare)

It was for these and many others reasons, not least having worked with over 50 highly narcissistic people during his own career and seen first hand the harm they can do both to other people and the organisations which employ them, but for 25 years being unaware that the discomfort and trouble they brought and their inability to be loyal to anyone but themselves could be due to a “personality disorder”, which led EBENI chair Julian Clarke to start studying psychology in 2010, personality disorders from 2013 and propose the following definition of a “Disordered Leader” at the US IVBEC Business Ethics Conference in 2019:

“Someone trusted with supervisory, managerial or leadership responsibilities who, due to what may be indicative of a mental and/or personality disorder(s), could be considered to be incapable of consistently responsible, trustworthy, harmonious, prosocial and accountable management or leadership with integrity, including prioritising the interests of stakeholders other than themselves, especially when this may impede satisfying their self-interest.”

(Proposed at the 26th IVBEC or “International Vincentian Business Ethics Conference” entitled “Capitalism and Ethics” held in Dublin in October 2019 by EBENI Chair Julian Clarke during his presentation “The Leadership Fallacy: The Challenge Posed by Self-Centred Leaders”).

Just like it can appear to be well-nigh impossible to tell a selfish person that they may be self-centred, given that they may not be able to see this for themselves, it can be equally difficult to inform someone lacking the wonderful facility of (emotional or affective) empathy that they may be deficient in a quality they may never have possessed.

Indeed one of the aspects of a variety of Personality Disorders is that the disordered person believes that they are entirely normal, believing and blaming the many problems they create for both others and themselves on anything and everyone else, given that:

his monumental lack of insight indicates how little he appreciates the nature of his disorder.” (Cleckley, p383)

Cleckley’s Dozen

It is matters such as those subsequently described by Hare (1993) and Stout (2005) and briefly outlined in this “Dirty Dozen” which led the earlier pioneer Prof Hervey Cleckley to write in his seminal work “The Mask of Sanity” (5 editions from 1941-1985):

  1. “The psychopath’s unreliability and his disregard for obligations and for consequences are manifested in both trivial and serious matters, are masked by demonstrations of conforming behaviour, and cannot be accounted for by ordinary motives or incentives.” (p342)
  2. “Despite the extraordinarily poor judgment demonstrated in behaviour, in the actual living of his life, the psychopath characteristically demonstrates unimpaired (sometimes excellent) judgment in appraising theoretical situations. In complex matters of judgment involving ethical, emotional, and other evaluational factors, in contrast with matters requiring only (or chiefly) intellectual reasoning ability, he also shows no evidence of a defect. So long as the test is verbal or otherwise abstract, so long as he is not a direct participant, he shows that he knows his way about. He can offer wise decisions not only for others in life situations but also for himself so long as he is asked what he would do (or should do, or is going to do). When the test of action comes to him we soon find ample evidence of his deficiency.” (p346)
  3. “Be it noted that the result of his conduct brings trouble not only to others but almost as regularly to himself. To take still another point of view and consider him on a basis of those values somewhat vaguely implied by “intellectuality,” “culture,” or, in everyday speech, by “depth of mind,” we find an appalling deficiency.” (p39)
  4. “I think, however, that the roots of this attitude lie deeper, probably in the core of the psychopath’s essential abnormality – perhaps in a lack of emotional components essential to real understanding.” (p173)
  5. “His subjective experience is so bleached of deep emotion that he is invincibly ignorant of what life means to others.” (p386)
  6. “The psychopath feels little, if any, guilt. He can commit the most appalling acts, yet view them without remorse. The psychopath has a warped capacity for love. His emotional relationships, when they exist, are meagre, fleeting, and designed to satisfy his own desires. These last two traits, guiltlessness & lovelessness, conspicuously mark the psychopath as different from other men”. (p410)
  7. “He is unfamiliar with the primary facts or data of what might be called personal values and is altogether incapable of understanding such matters. It is impossible for him to take even a slight interest in the tragedy or joy or the striving of humanity as presented in serious literature or art. He is also indifferent to all these matters in life itself. Beauty and ugliness, except in a very superficial sense, goodness, evil, love, horror, and humour have no actual meaning, no power to move him… He is, furthermore, lacking in the ability to see that others are moved. It is as though he were colourblind, despite his sharp intelligence, to this aspect of human existence. It cannot be explained to him because there is nothing in his orbit of awareness that can bridge the gap with comparison… He can repeat the words and say glibly that he understands, and there is no way for him to realise that he does not understand.” (p40)
  8. “The psychopath shows a remarkable disregard for truth and is to be trusted no more in his accounts of the past than in his promises for the future or his statement of present intentions.” (p341)
  9. “He gives the impression that he is incapable of ever attaining realistic comprehension of an attitude in other people which causes them to value truth and cherish truthfulness in themselves… Typically he is at ease and unpretentious in making a serious promise or in (falsely) exculpating himself from accusations, whether grave or trivial. His simplest statement in such matters carries special powers of conviction. Overemphasis, obvious glibness, and other traditional signs of the clever liar do not usually show in his words or in his manner. Whether there is reasonable chance for him to get away with the fraud or whether certain and easily foreseen detection is at hand, he is apparently unperturbed and does the same impressive job… Candour and trustworthiness seem implicit in him at such times. During the most solemn perjuries he has no difficulty at all in looking anyone tranquilly in the eyes.” (pp342)
  10. “Let us remember that his typical behaviour defeats what appear to be his own aims. Is it not he himself who is most deeply deceived by his apparent normality? Although he deliberately cheats others and is quite conscious of his lies, he appears unable to distinguish adequately between his own pseudo-intentions, pseudo-remorse, pseudo-love, and the genuine responses of a normal person. His monumental lack of insight indicates how little he appreciates the nature of his disorder.” (p383)
  11. “These people called psychopaths present a problem which must be better understood by lawyers, social workers, schoolteachers, and by the general public if any satisfactory way of dealing with them is to be worked out. Before this understanding can come, the general body of physicians to whom the laity turn for advice must themselves have a clear picture of the situation. (p14) Interest in the problem was almost never manifested by the patients themselves. The interest was desperate, however, among families, parents, wives, husbands, brothers, who had struggled long and helplessly with a major disaster for which they found not only no cure and no social, medical, or legal facility for handling, but also no full or frank recognition that a reality so obvious existed.” (Preface – first edition).
  12. “Few medical or social problems have ever so richly deserved and urgently demanded a hearing. It is still my conviction that this particular problem, in a practical sense, has had no hearing… How to inform their relatives, the courts which handle them, the physicians who try to treat them, of the nature of their disorder has been no small problem… The psychopath presents an important and challenging enigma for which no adequate solution has yet been found.” (Preface)

Those who see nothing wrong in words, deeds and actions which many others couldn’t even countenance, who seem to operate within their own parameters of what may be right and wrong, especially when others may see these as being confused and bizarre but they believe to be entirely normal and the way they have always lived life and dealt with other people, thriving on deceit, manipulation, discouragement, disagreement, disloyalty, dissent, disruption, disharmony and even outright conflict rather than harmonious cooperation, may indeed have something wrong with them.

Yet we continue to make such people leaders, most visibly due to what this research refers to as their “ICE characteristics” of Intelligence, Charisma and Eloquence.

This can be despite:

1 their (possibly delusional yet clever) words lacking any connection with real intent, action or even reality,
2 their charm transpiring to be skin-deep, grandiose, insincere and perhaps even insecure, especially when their extraordinary DISLOYALTY to anyone but themselves surfaces, and when
3 their intelligence lacking any semblance of a genuinely emotional element or interest in anything or anyone but themselves,

given their fundamentally “ICE-cold” nature, lack of warm, caring, sharing emotions and anything passing as EMPATHY, which permits them to act in a quite “RUTH-LESS” manner, which actually translates as “sympathy-free”, not known to be that which most people best respond to.

The salutary lessons to be learned from the crises which “Disordered Leaders” create (and the many often unsung successes achieved by way of cooperation under “Constructive Leaders”) is that:

“As far as leadership is concerned, all the intelligence in the world is of little or no value, if none of it is emotional.”

Why do we continue to trust those with responsibility for the lives and emotions of others, who cannot even seem to manage their own?

Indeed for some in society, the question needs to be asked whether self-interest is a rational choice or a “state of mind”, a cognitive prerogative which appears to impulsively over-ride all other mental processes, irrespective of the consequences for other people, the entity (mis) led and (extraordinarily) even themselves?

 

It is for reasons such as these that at the 2019 US IVBEC business ethics conference EBENI Chair Julian Clarke proposed at least FIVE STEPS which the rest of society needs to take to protect itself from such people, especially when holding responsible roles including leadership:

  1. IDENTIFY these abnormal people, by way of their own “Destructive Leadership” behaviour, as being different from the norm,
  2. STOP them achieving positions of influence & responsibility throughout global society, or if already in situ
  3. LEARN how to behave differently towards them (“denying narcissistic supply”),
  4. ADAPT to (not) respond to their sometimes extraordinary actions & reactions (evident due to their “maladaptive” inflexibility), to
  5. MINIMISE the damage & havoc they will inevitably create and preferably replace them with far more responsible people who do meet the “Constructive Leadership” criteria, knowing they will “do whatever it takes” and go to any lengths irrespective of the consequences to maintain the power they should never have been trusted with in the first place.

© Julian M Clarke 2021 (Research 2010-2021)

An extended presentation from the 2019 IVBEC conference featuring 75 propositions arising from this research can be downloaded.

“Cleckley’s Dozen” extracted during 2017 from:

Cleckley, H. (1976). The Mask of Sanity. St. Louis, Mo: Mosby.

with further extracts here.

“Dirty Dozen” extracted and combined during 2015/16 from:

Stout, Martha, 2005: The Sociopath Next Door, Broadway Books / Random House

Hare, Robert D, 1993: ‘Without Conscience: The Disturbing World of the Psychopaths Among Us’, Simon & Schuster & Guilford Press, 1999