Do Men and Women Have Different Brains?

Do Men and Women Have Different Brains?

We probably all believe, to some degree, that men’s and women’s brains differ. But the research is contradictory, and a major review last year found no significant differences – going against most people’s gut feeling and general observations. But some more recent research points to what the differences might actually be . . .


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How Poverty Messes Up Babies’ Brains

How Poverty Messes Up Babies’ Brains

The Dramatic Impact of Poverty in Newborns Brains

​Reading time: about 5 minutes

baby brain

So, does being poor impact your brain, or are people with decreased cognitive ability poor?

Some people may have strong opinions on the above question. Probably broadly along political partisan lines. But the best place to answer this question is with research and science and the answer is coming firmly down on the side of, poverty disrupts you brain. If I were being dramatic, I might say it “wreaks havoc” “destroys” or some other emotional descriptions. They might actually be very good descriptions.

But how?

First, let’s review some recent research out which is really interesting because it scanned newborn babies’ brains while they were sleeping. This is really important because it showed that this life disadvantage is there right from day one. That is very worrying.

The researchers at Washington University School of Medicine analysed a sample of 399 mothers and their babies. 280 of these were at a social disadvantage - scientific language for being poor. And these newborns showed significant differences to their brains to babies born to mothers in better social conditions.

The scans showed

  • Less cortical gay matter  -  cortical gray matter is the outer layer of the brain considered our higher functional area of the brain (but involved in a lot including sensory processing). The gray matter is the area that houses your neurons, brain cells.
  • Less sub-cortical gray matter  –  subcortical gray matter refers to regions that sit in the internal regions of the brain which are often important for emotional functions but also memory and general functional processing. As I said, gray matter houses your neurons, brain cells
  • Less white matter  -  white matter refers to the mass of connections between brain regions. So, this suggests less connections between all brain regions, or less efficient connections.
  • Fewer and shallower folds in the brain – the folds in the brain give it that wrinkly look and allows the brain to have more surface area but is also a sign of a mature or more functional brain.

This is quite dramatic  –  though the absolute differences may not be large, it all points to a less developed, or functional brain, at all levels. This was simply comparing two groups of newborns shortly after birth. This means these babies are at a disadvantage right from the outset - even before anything else happens these kids are starting at -1.

This is worrying and another study from the same dataset asked another question.

How does crime exposure affect newborns’ brains?

For this study they analysed what neighbourhoods these pregnant women lived in and hence their potential exposure to property or violent crime. And the results again are worrying. But the results were different: in the aforementioned study the results seemed to impact the whole brain and not specific regions of it but in this study various functional networks were affected.

brain scans

A number of networks were affected but the most relevant is that of the thalamus-amygdala-hippocampus network. This may sound like gobbledygook to you but this is a network that connects sensory information to emotional responses and to memory functions. So, in short disrupted emotional and memory networks.

The same applies as to the previously mentioned study. This was in newborns with just the mothers living in higher crime neighbourhoods  –  just this was enough to see a significant difference in these newborn babies’ brains.

So, those kids born in poverty with these mothers being exposed to crime during pregnancy seem to be starting life at -2. Decreased brain maturity and disrupted emotional and memory networks. Not good, very bad indeed.

It is also really important to note that we haven’t even begun to speak about developmental factors and how these brains can and do develop in socially deprived environments, nor have we spoken about epigenetics, such as how stress can pass an gene activation patterns to offspring.

This also shows that breaking out of this cycle requires more than just proclaiming that people need to make the good choices in life. Of course, they do, but starting out with a brain that is already less developed and with disrupted networks is only likely to perpetuate this poverty cycle.

What about brain development?

We do know, of course, that there are many developmental factors that can and do contribute to brain development of children in positive ways. In this article here I outline the ground-breaking research that showed that care for children could massively boost IQ.

The Abecedarian Project in the USA showed that pre-school education could leave traces in the brain that could be seen 50 years later. Similarly, breast feeding has been shown to improve the brain health of children and also of mothers  –  and, again, this can be seen decades later in the brain. In addition, exercise and movement improves children’s brain signatures  –  with exercise in pre-teen years leaving a signature on the brain also observable many years later.

That is all good but what the observant amongst you will notice is these are also often related to social standing.

Pre schooling  -  particularly high quality pre schooling is basically only available for those who can afford it or live in the right neighbourhoods. High quality nutrition also.

Breastfeeding may seem like a cheap option to help with your kids’ brain development, but this necessitates actually being able to breastfeed with your children, the mother having the right nutrition, and being able to do this. If a mother is living in poverty and trying to hold down two jobs to feed herself and her children, this may be out of the question. And often is.

Similarly, taking part in structured sporting activities is something that comes with social settings  -  but it is something that could be a cost-effective intervention for many children.

A just society?

So, if we do want a society that can grow and flourish, if we want a just society, if we want a good society, we should pay close attention to this.

Development of children’s brains happens before they are born - interventions that help pregnant mothers, particularly those who are impoverished, will have a significant benefit on those babies’ brains. Similarly investing in interventions pre-school also.

The worrying take-away, and important message, is that poverty really does mess with your brain. It does this as an adult but more importantly, as I have just outlined, based on scientific evidence, it messes with your brain right from the outset  -  from before you are born.

This also massively raises the importance of investing in and enabling interventions at this stage  – guided by science rather than political opinions.

After all who wouldn’t want a society with better brains. I do




Andy Habermacher

Andy Habermacher

Andy is author of leading brains Review, Neuroleadership, and multiple other books. He has been intensively involved in writing and research into neuroleadership and is considered one of Europe’s leading experts. He is also a well-known public speaker speaking on the brain and human behaviour.

Andy is also a masters athlete (middle distance running) and competes regularly at international competitions (and holds a few national records in his age category).

twitter / LinkedIn


Regina L. Triplett, Rachel E. Lean, Amisha Parikh, J. Philip Miller, Dimitrios Alexopoulos, Sydney Kaplan, Dominique Meyer, Christopher Adamson, Tara A. Smyser, Cynthia E. Rogers, Deanna M. Barch, Barbara Warner, Joan L. Luby, Christopher D. Smyser.
Association of Prenatal Exposure to Early-Life Adversity With Neonatal Brain Volumes at Birth. 
JAMA Network Open, 2022; 5 (4): e227045
DOI: 10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2022.7045

Rebecca G. Brady, Cynthia E. Rogers, Trinidi Prochaska, Sydney Kaplan, Rachel E. Lean, Tara A. Smyser, Joshua S. Shimony, George M. Slavich, Barbara B. Warner, Deanna M. Barch, Joan L. Luby, Christopher D. Smyser.
The Effects of Prenatal Exposure to Neighborhood Crime on Neonatal Functional Connectivity. 
Biological Psychiatry, 2022
DOI: 10.1016/j.biopsych.2022.01.020

More Healthy and Society Brains articles

The Importance of Daily Rhythms

The Importance of Daily Rhythms

That we, and other plants and animals, have daily rhythms has been known for centuries. Over the years this has been shown to be much more fundamental to all aspects of biological functioning and therefore health – than many could have assumed.

Eat Less to Live Longer

Eat Less to Live Longer

When we talk of healthy brains we automatically think of things like exercise and nutrition that I have covered at times here. But the thing we put into the brain most is oxygen. So, let’s have a quick look at how the air we breathe impacts brain performance.

Two Hopeless Little Girls Abandoned to a Mental Institution — With Astounding Results

Two Hopeless Little Girls Abandoned to a Mental Institution — With Astounding Results

An Astounding and Underated Story of Brain Development

​Reading time: about 7 minutes

orphan brain development

The story goes that Harold M. Skeels, on taking over responsibility for the Iowa state psychiatric institutions in 1938, walked into the Iowa State orphanage which was situated within a complex including wards for the mentally retarded and sick, and saw two little girls sitting on the floor whining and crying and rocking back and forth.

He described them as such:

The youngsters were pitiful little creatures. They were tearful, had runny noses, and coarse, stringy, and colorless hair; they were emaciated, undersized, and lacked muscle tone or responsiveness. Sad and inactive, the two spent their days rocking and whining”

This was back in 1938 and these institutions are what would be unthinkable today. This was one large ward with dozens children in it and only two nurses to look after them. One of the key roles of the orphanage was also to find or match children to potential adoptive parents. However, under state law those considered retarded couldn’t be put up for adoption. These two girls, as you can see from the outline above were considered retarded with estimated IQs of between 35 and 46 (100 being the norm).

A Harsh Decision

With no beds free and children to be admitted, Skeels made what sounds like a harsh decision. Skeels was not a bad man, on the contrary, he was a very good man, but he did need space to look after more children. He therefore made the decision to have these two unresponsive retarded girls moved to a ward for women who were themselves considered retarded or mentally sick. A side note is that in this dark chapter of US history many things could lead to women being considered “feeble of mind”.

So, these two girls transferred, their needs would be taken care of. They had warmth, protection, shelter, and nutrition. He left to tour and attend to other businesses in other locations. He returned three months later.

On his return he went to the ward to check up on these two girls. What he found was astounding — and also went against all beliefs held at the time: what it took to bring up children, who could do this, and whether you were born with intelligence, or born an imbecile.

The Transformation

On entering the ward he was met with two unrecognisable little girls. The girls were little bundles of energy and activity. Full of life and responsive to those around them. A transformation so complete he at first did not believe these were the same girls. They were.

This went against everything everyone assumed at the time. You were born with a good mind or bad. You were retarded or you weren’t. If you were mentally ill, or retarded, there is not way possible that you could be a good mother. Yet, here he had evidence to the contrary — two little retarded girls had over period of only three months been transformed.

He measured their IQs and they came in at 77 and 87, no longer considered retarded. This was measured again a few months later and IQ scores for both girls were now mid 90s close to the norm.

How Could This Happen?

This was the question he asked himself, and then asked the nurses, and the women on the ward, but also observed them over the next few months.

What had happened is that these children were met with warmth, love, and heaps of attention. This was also the best thing to happen to the nurses on the ward and the women in the ward. What happened is one of the women become a main motherly figure and the other women become doting and loving aunts.

They stimulated them, played with them, comforted them, catered to their needs, made them toys, knitted them clothes. These girls had moved from a large ward with no attention to an environment full of love, attention, and stimulation. And it is this that led these girls within a short period of time to blossom.

It showed a number of important things. First, IQ, particularly in younger years, is not static but is as much as an environmental factor as genetic factor. Second, that to be a good parent you just needed love and the ability to care and give children the attention they need.

But was this really the case? To prove it Skeels set up an experiment that would be unthinkable today.

The Experiment

Based on this extraordinary experience, and full of excitement Skeels and a colleague, Dye, made a request to the authorities to run an experiment. In this they planned to place children in the mental health ward, and then follow their progress in contrast to another group kept in the orphanage.

They selected 13 one to two-year olds 11 of whom were classed as retarded (average IQ 67) and so unsuitable for adoption. These were now placed with teenage girls with mental retardation who lived at the institution. However, in contrast to the first girls, these young women were taught and guided in how to give basic care and attention to these young children. In addition the young children also attended a half morning kindergarten programme at the institution.

12 children were selected for the contrast group. These were kept at the orphanage as normal. Their IQs averaged 87 and only two were classed as mentally retarded.

What Happened?

After two years all the children were tested again — with astounding results.

Thos children who had been assigned to “mothers” showed an average improvement of IQ score of 27.5 points. This was enough for 11 of the 13 to become eligible for adoption. This was an amazing result in itself but even more so when contrasted to the “control” group — those who had stayed in the orphanage.

Those who had stayed in the orphanage showed an average decrease of 26 IQ points. They hence moved from hovering around below average IQ to mentally retarded.

This is in itself a fascinating and powerful piece of evidence. But it becomes even more powerful because 25 years later Skeels then managed to track down the majority of the children to gauge how well they had fared in life.

From Retardation to Contributing to Society

Form the 13 children in the experimental group 11 had married and this led to 9 children, all of normal intelligence it should be noted. The median educational level was 12th grade and four had attended college. The jobs ranged from homemaker to business and professional work with only those two who had not been adopted working in domestic services.

In contrast those 12 children who had remained in the orphanage for the study fared much less positively. The median level of education was only the third grade. Four were still institutionalised, and the others all worked in unskilled jobs (except one).

What has Changed?

Skeels noted in his follow up study that if his work could just stimulate some change or further research his work had been a success. He noted the obvious that there is potential in many children that cannot be unlocked because of the condition and environments they are in.

His work did indeed contribute to the changes in the orphanages and so was a resounding success. What is also forgotten is that because of prevailing opinions at the time his work was attacked viciously by many within and without the academic community. It takes a lot to change entrenched opinions.

There have been multiple other studies — of note are the orphanage studies which came about after the collapse of the Ceaușescu regime in Romania and children we found in dire conditions in dozens of orphanages. The result echoed those of Skeels study. Give the children good homes and their intelligence and behaviour rockets. However, this did depend on age and how long they had been institutionalised.

Remaining Persistent Opinions

I use the Skeels case in my talks on the brain and how this illustrates the plasticity of the brain — how the brain can and does change. But also how it clearly shows that human needs are critical to healthy development — our SCOAP model.

And though there is now also plenty of research into the brain science of what happens and how connections between brain cells can be destroyed with adversity in early childhood, it still feels like society doesn’t fully appreciate the value of enabling all young children to have access to education, stimulation, but also love and care.

We still seem to blame the mother or the person. The “they are born that way” mantra sits deep and strongly in human beings. No, the message is clear, they are that way because of their environment.

Skeels study also did not become as well-known as it deserved. On review there were multiple problems with the study, but that detracts from the overriding message. But societies and governments, in many countries, do now provide much better support for children, thankfully.

But it is still a useful reminder that investing in early childhood support for everybody in society is probably one of the best things you can do for society. it’s also a useful reminder of what human needs (SCOAP) can do for all of us

Andy Habermacher

Andy Habermacher

Andy is author of leading brains Review, Neuroleadership, and multiple other books. He has been intensively involved in writing and research into neuroleadership and is considered one of Europe’s leading experts. He is also a well-known public speaker speaking on the brain and human behaviour.

Andy is also a masters athlete (middle distance running) and competes regularly at international competitions (and holds a few national records in his age category).

twitter / LinkedIn


Skeels Studies

Skeels, H M & Dye, H B (1939)
A study of the effects of differential stimulation on mentally retarded children
Proceedings and Addresses of the American Association on Mental Deficiency 44(1), 114–136.

Skeels, H. M. (1966)
Adult Status of Children with Contrasting Early Life Experiences: A Follow-Up Study.
Monogr. Soc. Res. Child Dev. 31.


Long read on the Romanian orphans at the Atlantic

Long read on the Romanian orphans in the Guardian


Brookwood, M. (2021)
The Orphans of Davenport: Eugenics, the Great Depression, and the War Over Children’s Intelligence.
New York: Liveright Publishing Corporation.

More Healthy Brains articles

The Importance of Daily Rhythms

The Importance of Daily Rhythms

That we, and other plants and animals, have daily rhythms has been known for centuries. Over the years this has been shown to be much more fundamental to all aspects of biological functioning and therefore health – than many could have assumed.

Eat Less to Live Longer

Eat Less to Live Longer

When we talk of healthy brains we automatically think of things like exercise and nutrition that I have covered at times here. But the thing we put into the brain most is oxygen. So, let’s have a quick look at how the air we breathe impacts brain performance.

SCOAP An Introduction

SCOAP An Introduction

A comprehensive theory of human motivation, behaviour, and well-being

goals motivation brain SCOAP

What is SCOAP?

SCOAP is a complete model of human motivation, behaviour, and wellbeing, summarising over a century of research into the human brain and human behaviour in all contexts. SCOAP is an acronym for:

    • Self-Esteem
    • Control
    • Orientation
    • Attachment
    • Pleasure

I will outline here what is included in these fundamental drives of human beings, what these can be used for, what the science behind these is, and importantly, how these relate to other theories.

SCOAP neuroleadership human behaviour wellbeing

The Disciplines included in the SCOAP Model

What is SCOAP for?

SCOAP is a complete model of human motivation, behaviour, and well-being, summarising over a century of research into the human brain and human behaviour in all contexts. This therefore means this is a model of:

    1. Human Behaviour
      Why do we do what we do, what drives us over time, what engages us, what triggers us emotionally, and how we differ individually on these levels.
    1. Wellbeing
      What we need for emotional and mental wellbeing and how these are related.

This therefore also makes it a model for

    • Optimal performance
    • Optimal learning
    • Optimal brains

This can also be used in multiple contexts to stimulate optimal performance including:

    • Business: organisational performance and well-being
    • Business: team performance and well-being
    • Sports: team performance and well-being
    • Society: political dynamics
    • Society: well-being
    • Society: inter-group dynamics
    • Education: optimal performance and well-being
    • Personal: life satisfaction
    • Personal: family dynamics
    • Personal: relationship dynamics

For this short introduction we will focus mostly on business performance at the different levels (organisation, team, individual).

First, let’s understand what is included in SCOAP and how it contributes to motivation & motives, behaviour, and well-being.


SCOAP stand for the five core drivers and Needs of Self-Esteem, Control, Orientation, Attachment, and Pleasure. Each of these constructs are “big” constructs that cover various areas. For example, in Attachment we can consider relationships to our close family, to friends, to colleagues in the workplace, or society at large. One of the strengths of the SCOAP model is that the model has analysed over 54 other scientific models and synthesised these models into a coherent simplified model.

Here, in a simplified form, are Constructs (Facets) that fall under the Core Drivers (see evolutionary levels for more detail of the rationale behind these).

Neuroleadership brain SCOAP human behavior

Various constructs that can be ascribed to the needs of SCOAP.


You will notice that many of these are key themes in leadership and motivational courses. These are often reported by other models as multiple drivers (e.g. any of the three-need models) or sometimes classed as a single key driver (e.g. love is all you need). We analysed 54 needs models and showed that these all nicely slot into SCOAP and it is better to see these as Facets of the Core Needs of SCOAP.  

You may also be naturally attracted to some of these Facets and may feel that some are more important than others. However, we recommend not thinking of these in priorities, on average, because our research shows these are pretty evenly spread across populations. However, there will be individual differences. So, if you are an “attachment person” the concept of Attachment will resonate strongly with you. We explore this in the section on individualisation.

Another mistake is to class one as the primary motivation, or the “single key driver”. There have been many single driver theories throughout history, and they have contributed to the body of knowledge on human behaviour (and many were ground-breaking at the time) but we now know human beings are simply not so simple.

So SCOAP gives you a simple way to think of human behaviour by thinking of five Core Needs (and Drivers) which include numerous Facets and so cover the majority of human drives and desires.

 1. SCOAP as Behaviour and Motivation

SCOAP gives us a simple model of human behaviour and motivation. The body of knowledge into human motivation is also wide and deep. The theories fall broadly into two categories. What drives behaviour and how it drives behaviour. SCOAP also integrates other aspects of motivation, namely motivational direction, equity theory, and how we update our motivational models (build Schema) over time. Some of this would require a deep dive into the theories, the science, and the respective models of behaviour.

We define Motivation as an aroused state of goal pursuit

In this definittion of human motivation we are motivated to achieve goals. These goals are defined by our needs and personal ways we have defined these. it is also important to note that we may be motivated to achieve a goal, for example to increase status by getting abetter job, or to protect our needs by protecting our positions, ourselves, or thsoe close to us. this means we have two types fo goals Achievment Goals and Protection Goals. These drive our beahviour in our environemnts or context. Our motivioan has an outocme, nomralyl either succesful or unsuccesful. This then feeds back into our brain and understanding of the world and we will then set new goals (mostly unconsciously). We could then, for example, change the goal, or increase our energy, or change tactics. Here as an illustration.

neuroleadership motivation

The SCOAP model of human motivation.


Therfore in summary we say that all human beings are driven to fulfil or protect their Core Needs. This can include the following behaviours and motivations, with core needs listed:

    • Do a good job: mostly needs of Self-Esteem and Control
    • Move on in your career: mostly needs of Self-Esteem, Control, and Orientation
    • Help others: mostly need of Attachment
    • Win a sports match: mostly needs of Self-Esteem, Control, and Pleasure
    • Be a good friend: mostly needs of Attachment and Pleasure
    • Be a good parent: mostly needs of Attachment
    • Take a qualification: mostly needs of Orientation and Control
    • Have a good life: mostly need of Pleasure

This gives us goals, some of these are big life goals, but in daily business these are often smaller goals that may contribute to larger goals.

These goals then directly impact how we behave and what we do. This gives us an outcome that is either positive or negative. This positive or negative feedback will then lead to an emotional response and lead us to update our model and re-align our goals and our behaviour. For example, we may decide to increase effort on not reaching a goal, or we may decide to change our approach, or we may decide to give up.

For the record we should also distinguish motivation and engagement: 

Motivation is the arousal and energisation of a person towards goal achievement (over time)

Engagement is the ability of the person to engage with the task(s) of motivated goal achievement over time (therefore includes other factors such as resources, prioritisation, abilities, processes, support).

Emotional Triggers

We often use the term “emotional drivers” to describe SCOAP because this highlights the emotional and motivational aspect of these Core Needs. These Core Needs therefore trigger high emotional engagement but can also trigger high emotional responses and this can be positive or negative. We noted in the previous section motivation is about arousal and energisation. Motivational and leadership literature often talks of emotional triggers. 

Fulfilling a SCOAP need (or multiple Needs) can trigger a very positive emotional response (see next section to understand the individualisation of this).

Damaging or having a SCOAP need (or multiple Needs) violated can also trigger a negative emotional response. Again, these will be individualised to varying degrees.

SCOAP neuroleadership motivation

In the real world these come in different sizes and therefore have different impacts over different time frames.

  Life Feature Big Moderate Small Micro
Time scale Long-term Long-term Mid-term Short-term V. Short-term
Business Promotion to dream role Promotion / get the job Successful project completion Run a good meeting Be complimented on your work
Sports Win Major Title / Global Title Win Title Win a Match Have good training session Complete an exercise well
Family Get married / have a baby Child starts school Have a great holiday Have a special family meal Receive a compliment

This illustrates that these can have impacts over different time frames, and different intensities, and in different domains. The above shows only positive events but you can easily think and imagine the impacts of negative events by reversing the above e.g. “fired from dream job”

Our personal model of Core Needs will define how strongly we respond to each Need (see individualisation).

Over time each of us may (and almost certainly will) build very specific triggers to specific scenarios “I hate/love it when…”

Our responses will also be moderated by our personalities e.g. some people are more sensitive and so respond stronger to fulfilment and violation of their Needs.


SCOAP gives us an outline of drivers of human behaviour on average. However, we are all individuals and will therefore relate to the SCOAP Needs and their Facets in different ways. This will be based on our natural personality, our upbringing, and our life’s experiences.

For example, my SCOAP Profile (Andy Habermacher) would look something like this:

SCOAP motivation needs

Our research shows that the Needs, based on the SCOAP-Profile in data collected in business between 2014-17, are valued as such*.

SCOAP needs motivation brain

*Based on self-reported values on a scale of 0-10 or 0-100 and translated into %

 This shows that most people rate Self-Esteem as their most important need followed by Pleasure and Attachment, then Control and Orientation.


We have observed different patterns for individuals

Single Driver

People with single drivers focus very strongly on one Need and consider that life revolves around this. If you have this, you may have a clear life, or leadership philosophy. When we analyse some busines or leadership theories we can see that some of these have their roots in a one-dimensional view of human beings.

Double or Triple Driver

People with double or triple drivers will focus on multiple Needs and find them equally important or alternately find them the most important at different times. This will spread the focus but beware to be consistent. Again, some busines theories and leadership models focus on two or three drivers of human behaviour.

Balanced Drivers

Some people we measure, often high performers in business (but not only), showed very balanced and high Needs. This will make them engaged and motivated across all Facets and Needs. Hence the ability to commit a lot of energy and be constantly motivated. It can also make these people more sensitive to the up and downsides.

Peaks and Troughs

Some people have very high variation, sometimes within a Core Need. These people are often considered to be “high on personality” i.e. they can be seen as “special characters” because of their very strong drives or complete indifference to certain Facets of Needs. These people can be loved or disliked, probably because of their “eccentricity”.

Influence of Personality

Our personality traits will contribute to how these Needs are processed and expressed. For example, introverts may not express as clearly or emotionally their feelings and whether their Needs are fulfilled or violated. Similarly, those higher on sensitivity will respond stronger to need fulfilment or violation. We also showed in some workplace research that this contributes to well-being, and energisation in the workplace (see next section).

2. SCOAP as Well-Being

The base theory of SCOAP was built on a model of mental health and optimal human health by Klaus Grawe who proposed his Consistency Theory Model in 2004 (2007 in English) while writing on neuropsychotherapy. This summarised multiple lines of evidence and research to show that violation and lack of fulfilment leads to diminished well-being and risk of mental health disorders, and increasing fulfilment leads to better well-being and reduction of mental health disorders. In fact, he said:

“This suggests that well-being depends almost entirely on the degree to which individuals manage to attain their motivational goals”

In “motivational goals he is referring to fulfilling emotional Needs that we have reformed, reanalysed, and restructured into SCOAP. We have further refined this by measuring Needs fulfilment in an individualised way i.e. In comparison to one’s own personal model of SCOAP.

Ghadiri showed in a piece of research in 2017 that measuring mismatches in SCOAP, combined with personality traits, was a much better way to predict well-being and fatigue in the workplace.

SCOAP wellbeing brain 



So, simply put, if your workforce can, on average, fulfil their SCOAP Needs to a suitable degree they will be satisfied and have high well-being. This will enable them to commit their energy and cognitive resources. They will therefore be in a position to perform to the best of their abilities. Whether they can, or cannot, will depend on some other factors such as alignment and resources (but this will also be reflected in SCOAP feedback).


SCOAP is far from unique in ascribing well-being to human Needs. Many needs models are designed as models of human well-being, in and out of the workplace. SCOAP, however, is a balanced and comprehensive model and also measures individualisation of the Needs and therefore gives better data.

In short SCOAP is the most robust, comprehensive, and indivdualised model there is.

A Brief Scientific Background

Seymour Epstein proposed four core human Needs based on the previous theories and models:

Epstein, S., and Weiner, I. B. (2003). “Cognitive-experiential self-theory of personality,” in Comprehensive Handbook of Psychology Volume 5 Personality and Social Psychology, ed. M. J. Lerner (John Wiley & Sons, Inc.), 159–184.

Klaus Grawe saw Epstein’s model as being robust and used this for his Consistency Theory Model and his writing on Neuropsychotherapy (published in German in 2004):

Grawe, K. (2007). Neuropsychotherapy: How the Neurosciences Inform Effective Psychotherapy. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Klaus Grawe and colleagues researched the efficacy of Needs fulfilment and violation in therapeutic settings:

Gassmann, D., and Grawe, K. (2006). General Change Mechanisms: The Relation Between Problem Activation and Resource Activation in Successful and Unsuccessful Therapeutic Interactions. Clin. Psychol. Psychother. 13, 1–11. doi:10.1002/cpp.

Smith, E. C., and Grawe, K. (2003). What makes psychotherapy sessions productive? A new approach to bridging the gap between process research and practice. Clin. Psychol. Psychother. 10, 275–285.

Grosse Holtforth, M., Pincus, A. L., Grawe, K., Mauler, B., and Castonguay, L. G. (2007). When What You Want is Not What You Get: Motivational Correlates of Interpersonal Problems in Clinical and Nonclinical Samples. J. Soc. Clin. Psychol. 26, 1095–1119.

Holtforth, M. G., Bents, H., Mauler, B., and Grawe, K. (2006). Interpersonal distress as a mediator between avoidance goals and goal satisfaction in psychotherapy inpatients. Clin. Psychol. Psychother. 13, 172–182. doi:10.1002/cpp.486.

Holtforth, M. G., and Schneider, W. (2008). “Motivation und Motivationskonflikte,” in Störungsorientierte Psychotherapie doi:10.1016/b978-343723730-0.50013-6.

Grosse Holtforth, M., and Grawe, K. (2004). Inkongruenz und Fallkonzeption in der Psychologischen Therapie. Verhal. Psychosoz. Prax.

Holtforth, M. G., Grawe, K., Fries, A., and Znoj, H. (2008). Inkonsistenz als Differenzielles Indikationskriterium in der Psychotherapie – Eine Randomisierte Kontrollierte Studie. Z. Klin. Psychol. Psychother. doi:10.1026/1616-3443.37.2.103.

Grosse Holtforth and Grawe develop assessments to measure Needs of patients:

Grosse Holtforth, M., and Grawe, K. (2000). Fragebogen zur Analyse Motivationaler Schemata (FAMOS). Z. Klin. Psychol. Psychother. 29, 170–179. doi:10.1026//0084-5345.29.3.170.

Grosse Holtforth, M., and Grawe, K. (2003). Der Inkongruenzfragebogen (INK). Z. Klin. Psychol. Psychother. 32, 315–323. doi:10.1026//1616-3443.32.4.315.

Argang Ghadiri and Prof. Theo Peters write on neuroleadership and use Grawe’s model as a basis for understanding leadership efficacy. Andy Habermacher collaborates on the English book:

Peters, T., and Ghadiri, A. (2011). Neuroleadership – Grundlagen, Konzepte, Beispiele: Erkenntnisse der Neurowissenschaften für die Mitarbeiterführung. Wiesbaden: Gabler Verlag.

Ghadiri, A., Habermacher, A., and Peters, T. (2012). Neuroleadership – A Journey Through The Brain for Business Leaders. Berlin: Springer.

Habermacher, Ghadiri, and Peters do further research and formally name the model the SCOAP Model:

Habermacher, A., Peters, T., and Ghadiri, A. (2014). The Case for Basic Needs in Coaching: A neuroscientific perspective – The SCOAP Coach Theory. Coach. Psychol. 10, 7–16.

Ghadiri, A., Habermacher, A., and Peters, T. (2014). “SCOAP als Bedürfnisstheorie for das Neuromarketing.,” in Internationale Trends in der Markenkommunikation: Was Glabalisierung, neue Median und Nachhaltigkeit erfordern, eds. A. Ternès and I. Towers (Wiesbaden: Springer Gabler), 1–13.

Habermacher, A. (2014). The neuroscience of motivation: how basic human needs and motivation direct coaching interventions. in SGCP 4th International Congress of Coaching Psychology (London).

Habermacher, A., Ghadiri, A., and Peters, T. (2016). Human needs and their evolutionary development as drivers for decision making. Poster Present. NPE 2016. Proc. 12th NeuroPsychoEconomics Conf. 2016 June 2-3; Bonn, Ger.

Habermacher, Ghadiri, and Peters develop and validate the SCOAP-Profile and measure this in organisational contexts

Ghadiri, A. (2017). Bedürfnisse messen – Eine empirische Studie im organisationalen Kontext. Zeitschrift für Führung und Organ. 1, 18–23.

Habermacher, Ghadiri, and Peters publish the updated SCOAP model as a comprehensive theory with analysis of all previous Needs models

Habermacher, A., Ghadiri, A., and Peters, T. (2020). Describing the elephant: a foundational model of human needs, motivation, behaviour, and wellbeing. doi:10.31234/

Andy Habermacher

Andy Habermacher

Andy is author of leading brains Review, Neuroleadership, and multiple other books. He has been intensively involved in writing and research into neuroleadership and is considered one of Europe’s leading experts. He is also a well-known public speaker speaking on the brain and human behaviour.

Andy is also a masters athlete (middle distance running) and competes regularly at international competitions (and holds a few national records in his age category).

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The Newly Discovered Bias That Makes Us Think We Are More Diverse Than We Are

The Newly Discovered Bias That Makes Us Think We Are More Diverse Than We Are

diversity bias brain

A few weeks ago I reported on some newly discovered ways we are biased namely that we consider generic terms such as “people” as equivalent to “men rather than men and women. This was specifically focused on gender bias but this latest piece recently published shows us that we overestimate diversity in many contexts.

Why is this important? It is important because if we overestimate diversity, we don’t think we have a problem, or we think various population groups are represented when they are not. It will also impede any motivation to make a change or engage in action to readdress the imbalance.

So what did this latest research actually show?

Rasha Kardosh and colleagues of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem conducted 12 experiments with 942 participants in the U.S. and Israel. And the consistent results were that participants massively overestimate minority groups.

For example, you probably quickly glanced over the picture at the top of this article and would say that black faces were represented, and if you were asked how many, you may say something like: “Around 30%”. Incorrect. There are only two black faces which is just over 13%.

Why does this happen?

The title of the paper gives us clues as to why this is the case:
Minority salience and the overestimation of individuals from minority groups in perception and memory.”

As they note, minorities are “salient”. What that means is they are noticeable, precisely because they are the minority. Our brain is programmed to spot anomalies and so focuses more on differences rather than what is the same. This means spotting a minority group increases the weight, mostly unconsciously, in our brain, and we overestimate quantities. This leads us to think that the contexts we are in are more diverse than they are.

For example, Rasha Kardosh reports that Jewish Israeli students at their university estimate the proportion of Palestinian Israeli students at 31%. In reality this figure is closer to 9%. Their overestimation was over three times higher. Of interest is that this overestimation also occurred with the Palestinian Israeli students themselves to the same degree!

Another experiment in U.S. showed participants grids of faces, like the picture at the top of this article, and after presenting 100 faces asked participants to estimate the number of black and white faces. The proportion of black faces was 25%. What did the participants estimate the proportion was?

They estimated close to 45% — almost equality. Again, interestingly, this estimation was almost identical with white and black participants.

Just as interesting is that when the proportion was upped to 45%, just a slight minority, black and white participants then estimated the proportion as closer to 60%, a noticeable majority. Which also explains why some proportions of the population see minorities as “taking over”, even when this is not even close to being true!

Lowering engagement

The more concerning feature of this minority salience is that this does actually lower potential engagement. They conducted one experiment in which they either showed grids of faces with only 5% black faces, or, in contrast, just presented a description that only 5% of students were black at this university. They then asked if they would be willing to support a diversity initiative. The result?

Willingness to support a diversity initiative dropped in those that had seen the grids of faces rather than just the description. Although the good news is that support was high, at over 70%, and the drop in support was low, less than 5%. But this population group would likely to be more supportive anyhow— young students. This could be very different in different population groups.

What now?

This highlights an important way we are biased and overestimate minorities — this can be problematic in many ways: fear in society, lack of support for initiatives, dismissing diversity initiatives as unnecessary, and so on and so forth.

The good news is that we do know that focusing on the statistics and hard figures themselves is more effective. And so we should always be conscious to work with the figures and communicate these as often as possible rather than relying on these intuitive judgements.

Andy Habermacher

Andy Habermacher

Andy is author of leading brains Review, Neuroleadership, and multiple other books. He has been intensively involved in writing and research into neuroleadership and is considered one of Europe’s leading experts. He is also a well-known public speaker speaking on the brain and human behaviour.

Andy is also a masters athlete (middle distance running) and competes regularly at international competitions (and holds a few national records in his age category).

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Rasha Kardosh , Asael Y. Sklar , Alon Goldstein, Yoni Pertzov , Ran R. Hassin
Minority salience and the overestimation of individuals from minority groups in perception and memory
PNAS Vol 119, No 12.
March 14, 2022

More Quick Hits

Putin’s Brain

Putin’s Brain

Exploring the brain of Putin – and other psychopaths

putin brain

There has been a lot written about Putin and Russia over recent days and weeks. Many of them have been spot on. I would like to add to this in my field of expertise, the human brain, and this will highlight just what we are dealing with and the challenges. 

Somehow the world was surprised when Russian soldiers marched into Ukraine. Indeed, a think tank had reported just a few weeks previously that the chance of a Russian invasion as less than 50% – they obviously said that it was probability – in retrospect maybe that figure should have been closer to 100% as it is now clear he was always going to invade. Indeed, those neighbouring countries had been warning the West for a long time – the invasion to them was not a surprise, a simple inevitability. I sadly admit my prediction that he will invade directly after the Olympics also proved to be spot on – why were some of the predictions wrong (they all thought they could be wrong, I know)? It lies in the simple fact they were classing “rational” ideas such as damage to economy with benefit of Ukraine – they weren’t thinking of how a Machiavellian Psychopath like Putin thinks.

So, what is happening in the brain of Putin? It is relatively easy to explain when we understand some of the dark traits of personality. And this is what I will outline in this feature article.

So, let’s look into dark personality traits. The dark triad is a term used to refer to a triad of personality disorders associated with bad, toxic, and plain evil behaviour. For those regular readers of leading brains Review, I also summarised this with respect to toxic leadership in lbR-2021-06. The dark triad are:

  • Psychopathy – cold and heartless
  • Narcissism – only for the love of oneself
  • Machiavellianism – shrewd scheming only for personal gain

Colloquially we tend to think of psychopaths as those heartless criminals – and this is true, these are the classic Hollywood supervillains, creating evil plans with no remorse at killing others and playing the dirtiest of dirty tricks. Indeed, an intelligent calculating psychopath is dangerous, very dangerous, indeed. And it is in psychopaths that there has been a lot of research, and brain scanning research at that.

The Dark Factor of personality

The dark triad is an easy way to remember these dark personality traits, but more recent research has come up with a more useful way of describing these. Rather than thinking of all three as separate entities and disorders Moshagen, Hilbig, and Zettler, in 2018, proposed the D-Factor. They noted that there is a strong interplay between all of these, and we can therefore think of one D-Factor score with different preferences or flavours of this. This makes sense, but this was a big thing to say at the time. They note nine characteristics of the D-Factor:

  • Egoism
  • Machiavellianism
  • Moral disengagement
  • Narcissism
  • Psychological entitlement
  • Psychopathy
  • Sadism
  • Self-interest
  • Spitefulness

The D-Factor is more useful I think because it also shows some of the other factors that may or may not be associated with the dark triad such as sadism or spitefulness. In the 2018 paper Mohagen et al. summarise succinctly the D-Factor as:

“…the tendency to maximize one’s individual utility—disregarding, accepting, or malevolently provoking disutility for others—accompanied by beliefs that serve as justifications”

This is however, a more recent concept and if we want to look inside brains, and particularly Putin’s brain, we need to revert to multiple older studies and reviews on, primarily, psychopaths.

So, can we identify a psychopath from their brain activation patterns? The answer is easy: yes, we can.

Brain activation

Brain scanning in psychopaths started in the noughties and has developed ever since. In parallel the understanding of psychopathy have also developed with a clearer understanding of what it is and also differentiations with the criminally intent and the not criminally intent. In recent years there have been a number of reviews and meta-analyses of studies to give clearer understanding. Brain scanning aims to identify what are called primary psychopaths – those that are born with the structural differences that give rise to psychopathy and can be identified in children very early on – yes, as early as 2 or 3 years old!

I’m sure you’re itching to understand what is happening in the brain and how we can see this so early – and whether this pattern is reflected in Putin and his brain and whether we can do anything about this.

The first things that jumped out in brain scanning studies was that an area called the amygdala, that is strongly involved in fear processing, but also all emotional processing. This shows decreased activation to emotional stimuli – this falls in line with being cold and fearless – brains of psychopaths do not process fear or emotions in the same way as a non-psychopathic brain.

Prefrontal to emotional connectivity is another area that is reduced. For regular readers of my writing, you will know that the prefrontal areas of the brain are involved in the more cognitive rational functions of the brain. This drop in prefrontal connectivity, particularly in an area called the orbitofrontal cortex, reduces the impact of emotions on decision making, leading to those cold utilitarian decisions.

psychopathy brain

These are the big two but there are also other areas. Readers of leading brains Review will already have been introduced to these areas and their functionality. An area called the insula is also activated differentially – the insula is an area that is involved in embodiment of feelings, such as pain and disgust but also feeling for others. This suggests reduced empathy for others.

Another area identified in one study in anti-social people was in a region known as the medial frontal cortex. This is a region in their fontal lobes of the brain that is involved in social processing. In this region there was little difference shown between processing people and objects – the takeaway here is that some people fail to differentiate between human beings and objects, effectively seeing people as objects. If you are a grandiose narcissist or psychopath, as your objects, or objects for your use.

And finally, an area called the anterior and posterior cingulate cortex shows less activation. This is an area that is associated with error detection but also internalisation and self-reflection. This therefore suggests less internal reflection or reflection on one’s own actions. These people are not self-reflective.

All of this points to a very specific brain in those high in D-Factor. Which matches perfectly to those traits outlined by Moshagen et al.

Note this is not “psychological”, this is hard wiring in the brain. This show that they process fear differently are cold and calculating, have little empathy, see people as objects, most likely for their own personal gain, and are not self-reflective. This is “hardwired” and can be seen in young children.

Nature and/or Nurture?

So, this is the nature of a psychopath but how much of this can be changed? The brain is after all plastic and responds to its environment. This is relevant to Putin and his brain because nature alone may not be sufficient, but both nature and nurture together could be disastrous.

For that we should go to the story of Jim Fallon a neuroscientist who was studying brain activation patterns of psychopaths in 2005. On one study he was comparing brain scans of psychopaths to a control group. This particular control group was that of his family – easy and cost effective to organise. On looking through the control group scans he noticed an activation pattern that was clearly psychopathic. Clearly there had been a mix up – he asked his lab assistant to check on the mistake and assign it to the correct group – however the answer came back it was in the correct group. He then asked for the identity of the scan – which he could do as they were of himself and his family. To his surprise, and shock, the brain scan of that psychopathic brain was his own!

For the in and outs of this you may want to read the review in the Atlantic or in other places (a fascinating read). But the question we then need to ask is how can a psychopath become a successful neuroscientist – or is this common indeed?

The first question is that certain traits of psychopathy are actually beneficial and even celebrated in certain cultures – think of the hard-nosed business person. But your environment can also have a big effect.  Jim Fallon notes the positive effects of his upbringing – his educated, relatively affluent middle-class upbringing gave him good guiderails to do the right thing and engage in the world in the right way. But he noted on reflection – which is not something that comes easy to him, and in conversation with those close to him, that yes, he could be an arse, or simply psychopathic. Which of course he initially denied, as a psychopath would, and blame other people. But he is trained in neuroscience and has the cognitive ability to process this and process this he did. He therefore made an effort to become less psychopathic, with some success. He noted, however, that he was just going through the motions of being a nice person. Those around him however, agreed wholeheartedly, that they would much prefer he went through the motions than being an arse.

So, what does this tell us about environment? Firstly, environment can give support and guidance to those high in psychopathic or D-Factor traits to behave in suitable ways and become successful and non-criminal. There is a body of research into so-called successful, or non-criminal psychopaths, but space won’t permit going into that here – we after all want to get onto Putin’s brain.

Fallon himself at that time spoke of primary and secondary psychopathy. Primary being those hard-wired brain patterns that you can see very early on and secondary as the environmental factors pushing people into psychopathy. So, psychopathy can be inborn and can be mitigated by good upbringing or a suitable environment and society. And an unsuitable upbringing and local environment can push people into criminal psychopathy.

What does this mean for Putin – with no brain scans at hand and only observational evidence? Well, it is still pretty clear (crystal clear actually) where Putin stands. He clearly falls as primary psychopath or high on D-Factor traits and his environment has supported and rewarded this – remember he is ex-KGB.

This brings us on to two other factors which help to magnify D-Factor traits and others are present in Putin – in heaps.

Position Magnifies Psychopathy

Admittedly that title may be a little exaggerated, but it catches your eye and there is some truth in it. Why do I say that? Well, an interesting study I reported on last year, and was one of my most popular Quick Hits, looked into how peoples’ opinions and decisions change with positions of power – in this particular study, in supervisor positions in business-related scenarios. This experiment was interesting because it took the same people and then they made judgements based on their position. And lo and behold those in supervisor positions, where they had more power, and more choice, judged people more harshly, and were more willing to punish people for transgressions, and were less forgiving. Power corrupts, as they say.

Obviously not everyone, and not excessively, but the fact is, if you are in position of power, you are more likely to be less empathic, more judgemental, and harsher. Sorry to say. In society this also comes with wealth and privilege where you have more choice either through social influence or through finance – which you will likely take for granted. The authors called it a “choice mindset” – when you have the ability of choice through your position in business or society, it is easy to over-estimate how much choice others have and therefore judge them more harshly. Another one politicians and voters should be aware of.

However, I digress a little, what this shows is that positions of power will magnify D-Factor traits and they may appear where non appeared before. Don’t get me wrong this is not for everyone – nice people will still remain relatively nice – but psychopathic will likely become more psychopathic.

There is another factor that is interrelated – it is based on worldviews. Worldviews are a complex psychological phenomena that influence our whole view of the world and how it operates. They are basically our operating system and are based on multiple assumptions of what is good and bad, human nature, etc, etc.

There are simplistic ways to describe this as outlined in the 1950’s by the legendary Tomkins and his Normative and Humanistic worldviews which aligns pretty neatly with the conservative (normative) and liberal (humanistic) worldviews. Politicians and the general public would be well-advised to educate themselves in this – it explains a lot of politics especially in the USA.

There are more complex version of worldviews such as Pepper’s unreconcilable worldviews whereby Pepper proposed that many of the big conflicts in society are not actual conflicts but a result of different worldviews that are not reconcilable. Also, an insightful read. But for a full review of the concepts and complexity of worldviews you should read Koltko-Rivera’s review from back in 2004 – but back to the issue at hand. Putin and his invasion of Ukraine.

Here we can see that Putin is operating from a clear worldview. A worldview that power is defined by physical and military power. That the greatness of a nation is defined by its ability to coerce and manipulate other countries. That greatness is defined by the territory that you own. That is Putin’s worldview. He operates in this world, and this is also subject to ratification because he will use all these malicious methods to spy, coerce, and influence and if anyone retaliates or spies on him it just reinforces his world view.

His worldview seems to, clearly, be that of the old Soviet KGB spy. A great Russia is a big Russia, A great Russia overpowers their neighbours. A great Russia is in control. A great Russia will destroy you if you do not obey.

Putin cannot imagine, is not capable of imagining, another Russia, a Russia that could be great through peaceful things like generating great science, great art (which Russia consistently has done), or through wielding soft power and positive influence. Putin cannot imagine this; his worldview will block this. His brain will not allow this.

Putin’s Brain

So back to the original question of what does Putin’s brain look like and what we can predict he will and won’t do?

First off, we can safely say he is a primary psychopath or very high on the D-Factor. He exhibits all of these features in abundance. But some psychopaths are hot-headed and impulsive. He is not. He has enough cold calculating power to think long into the future and control his actions to get the absolute best for himself and Russia – but mostly for himself. That is a feature of psychopaths like Putin – it is primarily driven out of self-interest. He is interested in a great Russia but more as justification and to drive his ego, but also to influence others, more than he really cares for Russia. In his mind he is Russia, and a great powerful Russia at that.

So, combine his brain which is wired to have minimal empathy for others, to be cold and calculating, to be self-interested, not to mention sadistic and spiteful, with his environment, cutting his teeth in the KGB. The right environment to reward all those psychopathic tendencies he has – but as I said, with enough cold calculation to also play the long game. Combine this with his position as President, now for life – meaning he does not have to face voters even in a Russian sort of manipulated way. And combine this with his worldview and we have a perfect storm.

A brain designed to be psychopathic, built in an environment which is conducive to psychopathy, reaping the rewards from his behaviour, in a position of power which magnifies these features, and with his worldview. Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear.

The predictability of Psychopaths

Now some may think that Putin is unpredictable, but the fact is he is very predictable. We know the features of his personality and how he will respond. What we confuse is our worldview with his worldview – we may see the world through more rational eyes, through more reasonable eyes, more compassionate eyes – so we will not ”understand” Putin. In the West we have not been completely naïve, but we have failed to understand how far he will go. How far will he go?

He will go all the way.

You see he is a cold-hearted psychopath in a position of absolute power with a certain worldview. What does this mean for the Ukraine.

It bodes very darkly, and the West would need to sit up and pay attention now – and I mean now.

  • Putin does not care how many Russians die
  • Putin does not care how many Ukrainians die
  • Putin does not care what the West thinks
  • Putin does not care about protests in the West (but they show our governments that we care, and they should act, so keep protesting)
  • Putin does not care if Russia must suffer for a number of years
  • Putin does not care if Russian people will starve or die because of his actions
  • Putin will blame all of this on the West
  • And Putin will believe this in his own head
  • Putin will aim to punish anyone who has assisted Ukraine and will do anything to get back at the West
  • I repeat anything – remember he is sadistic, spiteful, and heartless, and with a cold calculating mind.

At this stage of the conflict Putin will make sure that Ukraine is destroyed by any means possible – if he can’t take it, it will be destroyed.

I do not say the above lightly. I do not say the above because I do not believe in peace. I personally think it would be so easy to live a peaceful pleasant life – but the fact is, there are Putins in this world and I am no longer naïve to that fact. And he will do as I have outlined above. It is in his nature, his upbringing, his position, and his worldview.

How do you fight a psychopath?

Now the question comes of how you fight such a psychopath as Putin. The answer is, with difficulty, but it can be done. The biggest mistake in fighting psychopaths is not building a very powerful, very aligned coalition. You see those high in D-factor, particularly those that are calculating, are very good at manipulating the system and taking out single threats. One person stands up and is immediately taken out – this serves as warning sign to others, who may think of standing up, that they will suffer and not survive – it is to silence the majority.


  • There needs to be a very powerful collective
  • There needs to be absolute unity in that collective
  • They must act quickly and strongly
  • They must be willing to go all the way and the psychopath must believe that
  • A Psychopath will immediately and viciously take advantage of any crack or hesitation
  • A Psychopath will push everything to make sure there is no collective against him
  • If possible, create an exit where they can save face, or exit with as little damage as possible

Even if this works, I may be that the psychopath will hold resentment against you for your life. This is why it is best that the voice comes from the collective to create a diffuse enemy and not a concrete easily identifiable one.

How to beat Russia in Ukraine?

As I write this, this may be too late, I am more than aware of this. It could be all over when you read this, but it may still help you to understand how it could have been avoided.

Thinking of Russia in Ukraine – first Putin wanted to take Ukraine for his own benefit. As I have outlined, he has no care for the lives of the innocent in Ukraine or in his own military. He expected a strong response from the West but nothing that would stop him taking Ukraine. How to stop him now?

  1. Massive escalation – show you are willing to go all the way. All sanctions and all support – not just token sanctions. Not just strong sanctions, but willing to go all in!
  2. Strong military intervention – some may say this is not our role, but it is. It is the West’s own decision of whether they want to defend Ukraine. But back to my above points. They should do this quickly and decisively.
  3. Get the Russian people on your side – now difficult because Putin has massively increased propaganda and effectively cut off access to the outside world. But the West should be pushing strong and powerful messages of how good the Russian people are, how Russia can, should, and will be great without Ukraine – and how Russian can, should, and will be great without Putin. This is really important: attack the psychopath but defend Russia and the good people of Russia (of which there are many).
  4. Promote strong Russian alliances (not single voices) from well-known Russians such as sports people and artists. This goes back to rule of very strong collectives. Individual voices are powerless, strong collectives are useful.
  5. Get China on board – this may be more difficult than it sounds (and not obvious) but there are political and popular methods that can be leveraged. Politicising may alienate China but if there is powerful strong grassroots i.e. consumer pressure on China they will move. For example, if there was a massive consumer movement to stop buying Chinese products. If there was massive pressure on companies to cancel or put on hold large orders in China. If there was massive pressure on companies to divest from China from customers and shareholders. This must be done carefully – but pressure there must be. China will choose the rest of the world over Russia but only if there is a very compelling reason to do so. China have their own imperialistic ambitions too – but need the West at this stage.

Why China you may ask – because China is Russia’s lifeline at the moment. No China, and Russia essentially loses all meaningful influence and all trade.

ukraine war brain

Will Putin use nuclear weapons?

I will stick my head out here and say something we all never wanted to hear. I think Putin is likely to use a nuclear weapon. Why?

  • It will benefit him
  • The West will not retaliate in like
  • He will destroy Ukraine and that is enough of a signal for him – that gives him power over other nations so he will sacrifice Ukraine and all those lives for more power over other nations
  • He believes he can get away with just “some” Western sanctions and will build his own empire – probably with China

In short, if he can’t take Ukraine, the chance of him nuking Kiev, for example, are very high. Sorry to say.

The walrus fight

The concept of a walrus fight is one I use to explain situations like this. In the world of walruses if you don’t fight, your lineage dies. One male walrus will control and have mating rights with a harem of females – for another male to get mating rights he will have to beat another male. And boy this male will fight it out. So, a young male will have to pick their fights carefully but when it comes to it, at some stage, they have to go all in – if you don’t, you lose, and if you are not willing to go all in, you have no chance of winning – you have lost from the outset. It is about the future of your lineage. You have to be prepared to go all in – be strategic yes, be clever yes, but at some stage you will likely have to fight, and the other walrus will have to believe this.

I see Ukraine as Walrus Fight – a fight that will have ramifications for many generations to come – a ceding of power to the East. A restart of nations taking over other nations by forceful means – unless there is a walrus to stop this. And there is – so far, they have not shown the appetite to go all in. They have not understood that this is a Walrus Fight. A fight for their future lineage.

So, what can you do as in individual feeling powerless?

  • Show your support for Ukraine
  • Support Ukraine in any way possible: charity, petitions, protests
  • Pressurise your government to take serious action
  • Show your support for military intervention in Ukraine – it is up to the West to decide whether they protect Ukraine, a sovereign nation, from invasion, and not Putin, and not whether the country is part of NATO or not.
  • Create massive pressure on China: support grassroots initiatives to do this

Back to the brain

I do not want to advocate war or aggression – I believe in peace and collaboration and being nice to each other. But the brain and all research into Dark Triad traits and disorders, and the D-Factor, show that with some people you will be left with no option. Putin’s brain does not have the wiring to be reasonable and compassionate. This pattern of activation has been magnified through his upbringing and his career in the KGB, and in his position as President for Life. He has consistently shown these traits and has shown how little he cares for human life and moral codes. He doesn’t care because his brain does not have the wiring to care – he does not have the worldview to back this up, in fact his worldview is the opposite. He will aim to increase his power at all costs.

This is tragic, tragic for Russia, tragic for the Ukraine, and tragic for us in the West. There is a way to stop him and that is tough, but if we don’t, we still have a powerful psychopath on the loose, and a further empowered psychopath at that, that will continue to operate as he has done, potentially with more aggression, vindictiveness, and cruelty.

Sorry to say. But that is Putin’s brain

Andy Habermacher

Andy Habermacher

Andy is author of leading brains Review, Neuroleadership, and multiple other books. He has been intensively involved in writing and research into neuroleadership and is considered one of Europe’s leading experts. He is also a well-known public speaker speaking on the brain and human behaviour.

Andy is also a masters athlete (middle distance running) and competes regularly at international competitions (and holds a few national records in his age category).




Hilbig, B. E., Thielmann, I., Klein, S. A., Moshagen, M., and Zettler, I. (2021). The dark core of personality and socially aversive psychopathology. J. Pers. 89. doi:10.1111/jopy.12577.

Moshagen, M., Hilbig, B. E., and Zettler, I. (2018). The dark core of personality. Psychol. Rev. 125, 656–688. doi:10.1037/rev0000111.

Moshagen, M., Zettler, I., and Hilbig, B. E. (2019). Measuring the Dark Core of Personality. Psychol. Assess. doi:10.1037/pas0000778.

Zettler, I., Moshagen, M., and Hilbig, B. E. (2021). Stability and Change: The Dark Factor of Personality Shapes Dark Traits. Soc. Psychol. Personal. Sci. 12. doi:10.1177/1948550620953288.

Dark Triad

Giammarco, E. A., and Vernon, P. A. (2014). Vengeance and the Dark Triad: The role of empathy and perspective taking in trait forgivingness. Pers. Individ. Dif. 67, 23–29.

Jakobwitz, S., and Egan, V. (2006). The dark triad and normal personality traits. Pers. Individ. Dif. 40, 331–339.

Kaufman, S. B., Yaden, D. B., Hyde, E., and Tsukayama, E. (2019). The light vs. dark triad of personality: Contrasting two very different profiles of human nature. Front. Psychol. 10. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2019.00467.

LeBreton, J. M., Shiverdecker, L. K., and Grimaldi, E. M. (2018). The dark triad and workplace behavior. Annu. Rev. Organ. Psychol. Organ. Behav. 5. doi:10.1146/annurev-orgpsych-032117-104451.

Muris, P., Merckelbach, H., Otgaar, H., and Meijer, E. (2017). The Malevolent Side of Human Nature: A Meta-Analysis and Critical Review of the Literature on the Dark Triad (Narcissism, Machiavellianism, and Psychopathy). Perspect. Psychol. Sci. 12. doi:10.1177/1745691616666070.

Paulhus, D. L., and Williams, K. M. (2002). The Dark Triad of personality: Narcissism, Machiavellianism, and psychopathy. J. Res. Pers. 36, 556–563. doi:10.1016/S0092-6566(02)00505-6.

Trahair, C., Baran, L., Flakus, M., Kowalski, C. M., and Rogoza, R. (2020). The structure of the Dark Triad traits: A network analysis. Pers. Individ. Dif. 167. doi:10.1016/j.paid.2020.110265.

Psychopathic Brain

Anderson, N. E., and Kiehl, K. A. (2012). The psychopath magnetized: Insights from brain imaging. Trends Cogn. Sci. 16. doi:10.1016/j.tics.2011.11.008.

Beeley, C. (2006). The Psychopath: Emotion and the Brain. Secur. J. 19. doi:10.1057/

Glannon, W. (2014). Intervening in the psychopath’s brain. Theor. Med. Bioeth. 35. doi:10.1007/s11017-013-9275-z.

Konicar, L., Veit, R., Eisenbarth, H., Barth, B., Tonin, P., Strehl, U., et al. (2015). Brain self-regulation in criminal psychopaths. Sci. Rep. 5. doi:10.1038/srep09426.

Lenzen, L. M., Donges, M. R., Eickhoff, S. B., and Poeppl, T. B. (2021). Exploring the neural correlates of (altered) moral cognition in psychopaths. Behav. Sci. Law 39, 731–740. doi:10.1002/bsl.2539.

Pera-Guardiola, V., Contreras-Rodríguez, O., Batalla, I., Kosson, D., Menchón, J. M., Pifarré, J., et al. (2016). Brain structural correlates of emotion recognition in psychopaths. PLoS One 11. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0149807.

Poeppl, T. B., Donges, M. R., Mokros, A., Rupprecht, R., Fox, P. T., Laird, A. R., et al. (2019). A view behind the mask of sanity: meta-analysis of aberrant brain activity in psychopaths. Mol. Psychiatry 24, 463–470. doi:10.1038/s41380-018-0122-5.

Santana, E. J. (2016). The brain of the psychopath: A systematic review of structural neuroimaging studies. Psychol. Neurosci. 9. doi:10.1037/pne0000069.

Yang, Y., and Raine, A. (2009). Prefrontal structural and functional brain imaging findings in antisocial, violent, and psychopathic individuals: a meta-analysis. Psychiatry Res. 174, 81–8. doi:10.1016/j.pscychresns.2009.03.012.

Weber, S., Habel, U., Amunts, K., and Schneider, F. (2008). Structural brain abnormalities in psychopaths – A review. Behav. Sci. Law 26, 7–28. doi:10.1002/bsl.802.

van Dongen, J. D. M. (2020). The Empathic Brain of Psychopaths: From Social Science to Neuroscience in Empathy. Front. Psychol. 11. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2020.00695.

Jim Fallon

Position and Judgment

Yin, Y., Savani, K., and Smith, P. K. (2021). Power Increases Perceptions of Others’ Choices, Leading People to Blame Others More. Soc. Psychol. Personal. Sci. doi:10.1177/19485506211016140.


Stone, W., and Schaffner, P. (1997). The Tomkins Polarity Scale: Recent Developments. Bull. Tomkins Inst. 4, 17–22. Available at:

Lee, D. S. (1983). Adequacy in World Hypotheses: Reconstructing Pepper’s Criteria. Metaphilosophy 14, 151.

Koltko-Rivera, M. E. (2004). The Psychology of Worldviews. Rev. Gen. Psychol. 8, 3–58.