It’s Official: CEOs are Psychopaths

The Discovery Channel has new show. I know, you’re excited.

It’s called How Evil Are You?, a question I typically only ask the car that merged into my lane on the 110 without a blinker, or when questioning the mental abilities of the artist formally known as Spencer Pratt, but Eli Roth delves into this question in a way that only we as students of psychology can truly appreciate. On the series premiere, Roth replicates the Milgram Experiment and examines his own brain patterns, both produce fascinating results.


Originally, The Milgram experiment studied obedience towards authority figures. The study began in July of 1961 as a series of notable experiments in social psychology conducted by Yale University psychologist Stanley Milgram, “which measured the willingness of study participants to obey an authority figure who instructed them to perform acts that conflicted with their personal conscience” (Milgram).

At the heart of the Milgram experiment is the study of human reaction to obedience. Without hesitation, seventy percent of individuals comply with orders given by authority. There are varying degrees of obedience that commonly exemplify this point. If you are pulled over by an officer for texting, the right to privacy prevents you from handing over your phone to the authority. They can not search your car or house without a warrant or probable cause. Celebrities make millions of dollars each year because of the authority they have over us; buy this, do this, eat this.  Millions of Americans were up in arms with the TSA when they believed they were abusing their rights during the searching process at airports, but Justin Bieber told his fans to follow an entertainment reporter, Billy Bush. Within 24 hours Bush had more than 14,000 new followers (not to mention the potentially hundreds of thousands of impressions/click-throughs he received). In this case, Bieber was the authority, in more extreme situations the authority has been Hitler, his influence conceived genocide. Clearly, both of these examples are at varying extremes of the spectrum, and in no way does Justin Bieber equate to Hitler, but both are infamous for their mass appeal and overwhelming effect upon their audience. As an authority, It is not about being effective. After all, Hitler was effective, but look at the devastation he caused. It is not about being the loudest or the most charismatic. It is about how we act as a result of someone else. I argue that the impact upon our own behavior is what dictates the true measure of authority.

During the latter part of the episode, Roth lets doctors scan his own brain, looking to locate signs of “evil”. “There are scientists that believe you can isolate for evil genetics. I went in this MRI where they flashed images of a rocking chair and a dead body and random stuff like that to see how my brain processes everything. The results from my brain were insane. I could not believe it” (The insider). Not surprisingly, Roth wants us to watch the show to find out the details of his inner means; however, while promoting the show (interview with Dr. Drew) Roth did say something incredibly remarkable. According to Roth, Dr. Fallon who conducted Roth’s brain scan recognizes, “The same qualities that are in a psychopath or serial killer are the qualities we look for in a CEO. You want them to kill the competition and make tough decisions, to be a strong leader, a dictator, a president. They have similar brain functions to a psychopath or someone that can turn off and kill another person.”

The replication of the “new age” Milgram experiment on How Evil Are You premiers  tonight. Do you think we will fall for the same traps? In the last 50 years we have assuaged racial prejudices, birthed some of the most insane technological advances, found cures for previously untreatable illnesses, started and stopped wars, elected a black president, etc., but have we evolved enough to change the results of Milgram’s social experiment, or is the root of who we are beyond our consciousness? Have we really learned nothing?

The results just may shock you.


WHY (as it applies to me)

Disclaimer: This blog breaks my traditional semi-objective tone and looks more at the purpose and motive that lies between my thoughts and key strokes.

I know, you’ve seen it, but it’s STILL relevant.

WHY: causality, a consequential relationship between two events. reason (argument), a premise in support of an argument, for what reason or purpose.

This is a question fit for every context ending with a question mark. In the above video, Mr. Sinek applies why to marketing. In this blog, I am applying it to me. Part of the process of graduate school is about taking an inventory of one’s self.

“Why? How? What? This little idea explains why some organizations and some leaders are able to inspire where others aren’t. Let me define the terms really quickly. Every single person, every single organization on the planet knows what they do, 100 percent. Some know how they do it, whether you call it your differentiated value proposition or your proprietary process or your USP. But very, very few people or organizations know why they do what they do. And by “why” I don’t mean “to make a profit.” That’s a result. It’s always a result. By “why” I mean: what’s your purpose? What’s your cause? What’s your belief? Why does your organization exist? Why do you get out of bed in the morning? And why should anyone care? 

If I follow the above logic, which by the way, I hardheartedly agree with, then in order to be successful, I too must find my why. What is my purpose? What is my cause? What is my belief? I want to not only work for a successful business, I want to be a successful business. Smirk if you want, but you do too.

We go around the room and most of us say that we don’t know exactly what we want to do. We are at one of the top universities in the country, and the best we can get is the simple feeling that we’re in the right program? We feel it, but when asked why, we look at each other in order to feel a sense of unity in our discomfort. Sure we can put labels on it: marketing, human resources, public relations, advertising, but when probed further, there’s a shared panic. I understand, I don’t have an answer that I am content with yet either, but this is what I’ve got so far:

I am here to make a difference. I know, Miss America pageant answer and I hate it too, but don’t disregard it yet..hear me out. There are only a few moments in my life where I have felt truly alive. My first was while in Kenya five months ago. I have never lived a more purposeful two weeks in my life. It is something that I hate trying to explain because words tend to only discredit the intensity of my experience, and if I’m being honest with you, your reaction if I were to explain it to you, would probably be highly disappointing to me too. I get it though, it’s something that is really hard to relate to. It’s like if you were really into Lady Gaga and she walked into Starbucks, I wouldn’t care, but you would be FREAKING.OUT. Anyway for now, just trust me when I say I lived. The second was when I found out that I got into USC. Why? you so appropriately ask? Because it signified the culmination of everything I had worked toward. It was my chance to do something bigger than me. I have a love for psychology that probably has a lot to do with growing up with a mother who is a licensed psychotherapist. I have a love for business that probably has to do with the fact that I like to feel like I am in control. It is the perfect combination. No, I don’t know exactly where I am headed, but I think what Mr. Sinek fails to mention is that sometimes a feeling can be just as powerful as an answer. Why? because sometimes the most meaningful things can’t be explained, only felt.

…and I feel like that’s okay.

What is your why?

Optimism is a Brain Defect

I repeat. Optimism is a brain defect.

I think it’s fitting to start out this post by talking about something I hate. I hate when I am having a really horrible day and I sit down next to someone who is having the BEST. DAY. EVER. I don’t care about the flowers your boyfriend bought you, carnations are filler flowers anyway. I know, I’m a terrible person.

On a normal day, however, I tend to be optimistic about most things. According to a recent study, this means I have a brain defect. Well that’s hopeful. I’ll explain:

Researchers at Wellcome Trust Centre for Neuroimaging at the University College London studied nineteen volunteers who were presented with a eighty situational/negative life events (i.e. car jacking, infidelity, being fired, and Alzheimer disease). During this time, researchers measured their activity in the brain while they were hooked up to a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scanner. Participants were asked to estimate the probability that these negative events would happen to them sometime in their life. A few minutes later, the volunteers were told the average probability of these events actually occurring to them. 

The researchers found that people did, in fact, update their estimates based on the information given, but only if the information was better than expected. For example if individuals estimated a 40 percent chance of getting cancer in their lifetime and then later were told they actually only had a 30 percent chance, then the second time they were polled they would alter their probability to 32 percent. However, if they underestimated their probability of a negative event, they would not increase their likelihood.

Why? Well the brain scans suggest that “all participants showed increased activity in the frontal lobes of the brain when the information given was better than expected, this activity actively processed the information to recalculate an estimate. However, when the information was worse than estimated, the more optimistic a participant there was less efficiently activity in these frontal regions coded for it, suggesting they were disregarding the evidence presented to them.” In essence, when outcomes were better than anticipated, activity in the frontal cortices spiked, monitoring estimation errors. However, when things were worse than expected, brain activity was much weaker. Psychologically, this gives way to the confirmation bias, the tendency for individuals to favor information that confirms their preconception and disregard information that does not support their previously held beliefs. When factual information given by researchers to participants did not match up with their predictions, the subjects essentially plugged their ears and hummed a tune.

Perhaps this is the reason that unplanned pregnancies occur or DUIs are so prevalent. The “it won’t happen to me” mentality can be quite harmful. On the other hand, being positive isn’t negative. There are a million reasons why we may condition ourselves in this manner. Seeing the glass half full or making lemonade out of lemons undoubtedly lowers stress, makes us more ambitious, and contributes to our overall happiness. It’s the one brain defect I am proud to possess.   How can we as students of psychology, marketing, public relations, and human resources find a silver-lining applicable to our fields and more importantly, our lives?

The Man Who Taught Us All How to Think Different

I was in church one Sunday when my pastor asked the congregation how many of us want to go to heaven when we die. Naturally, everyone raised their hand. He then asked, how many want to go right now? No one raised their hand.We have things to do. We have people to see and places to go, but not even the greatest among us can escape death. Steve Jobs, innovator, genius, revolutionary and entrepreneur died at age 56.

I google-imaged apple and there are more pixels related to Apple Inc. then to an actual apple. How did this happen? The answer, Steve Jobs.

We all know about his products, we all probably own one, but that is not the emphasis of this post. Instead, I want to focus on the man, not the mogul. Undoubtedly, Jobs changed the world as we know it. Our children will not only think differently because of Jobs, they will live differently, but how much do really know about the man behind the curtain?


Steve Jobs Jobs was born in San Francisco to Abdulfattah “John” Jandali, a Syrian, and Joanne Schieble, an American of Swiss and German decent. Both parents were graduate school students. Jobs’ grandfather did not approve of his parents getting married so his parents decided to put him up for adoption. Steve’s biological mother later became a speech pathologist while his father taught political science at various universities. Ironically however, four months after Jobs’ grandfather died (and only ten months after they decided to give up custody of Steve), his parents married and had a daughter, Jobs’ biological sister Mona Simpson.  The marriage ended in divorce. Later in life, Jobs connected with Mona and had a distant relationship with his biological mother. Although Jandali’s attempts, late in his life, to contact Jobs were unsuccessful; Interviewed in August 2011 when Jobs resigned as CEO of Apple, Jandali said, “I just wish I hadn’t been the selfish man I must have been, to allow both my children to turn their backs on me and pray it is not too late to tell Steve how I feel.” (The Sun)

Jobs was adopted by  Paul Jobs and Clara Jobs. Paul and Clara also later adopted a daughter, Patti. Paul Jobs, a machinist for a company that made lasers, taught his son rudimentary electronics and how to work with his hands. It was in Paul and Clara’s garage where Jobs’ and co-founder Steve Wozniak (shown above) began work on the first Apple computer. (Side note: the last name Wozniak is automatically saved in Mac spell check-just learned that).

Time past and Steve married Laurene Powell on March 18, 1991. The couple had a son and two daughters. However, Jobs also had a daughter, Lisa Brennan-Jobs (born 1978), from his relationship with Bay Area painter Chrisann Brennan prior to meeting his wife. For two years, Brennan raised their daughter on welfare while Jobs denied paternity by claiming he was sterile; he later acknowledged Lisa as his daughter (CNN). DUN DUN DUN.

Obviously, I did not personally know Steve Jobs and I am not here to bash his legacy. In fact, I have much respect and admiration for his professional accomplishments. I do not know if in my lifetime I will see the amount of innovation and complete transformation of our society by another name. I found out that Jobs had passed via Facebook (fitting right?) Millions of status’ were devoted to his passing, but one that I was exposed to I felt summed up his impact on my generation quite well. It came from one of my fellow Trojans who studied Music Industry and has a passion for everything that is music. It was as follows:

“Because of you, I’m able to write, record, and listen to music virtually anywhere I want. RIP Steve Jobs.”


A noticeably frail Jobs.

A copy of Jobs’ death certificate indicates that the Apple co-founder died of respiratory arrest resulting from pancreatic cancer that had spread to other organs (The Guardian).

Steve Jobs changed Human Behavior. He changed the way in which companies market, the way in which consumers act, think, and expect quality. He defines a movement of innovation. During one interview, Jobs stated, “There’s an old Wayne Gretzky quote that I love. ‘I skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been.’ And we’ve always tried to do that at Apple. Since the very very beginning. And we always will” – Steve Jobs

A Deeper Look at Frank Luntz: Obfuscation or Clarification?

Frank Luntz. “A corporate consultant, pollster and political consultant to Republicans, Luntz's specialty is testing language and finding words that will help his clients sell their product or turn public opinion on an issue or a candidate” (The Persuaders)

I was first introduced (figuratively) to Mr. Luntz in Dr. Fraser’s class. I found Luntz’s theory and technique as a wordsmith to be incredibly appealing. It is utterly fascinating how he has been able to manipulate our emotions, but is it conscionable?

Frank Luntz has made a career out of witnessing reactions and making decisions based on the reactions he gets. It’s quite simple, really. Newton determined that for “every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.” Frank Luntz pays particular attention to the reactions and alters the action or input to be able to get the appropriate reaction or output. How does he do this, you ask? Focus groups. Luntz uses dial technology to track uninterrupted reactions. More specifically, he takes a room of mixed Republicans and Democrats then plays a political speech while equipping each of them with dial technology. Participants turn the dial up if they agree with the statement being said at the time, and lower if they disagree. The point at which both Republicans and Democrats reach a plateau of agreeable measure is the point at which Luntz achieves success. As a result of such shared harmony, he knows what is marketable to each segment. This type of research changed the War in Iraq to the War on Terror, it renamed Global Warming to climate change. It is important to note that the war did not change as a result of his renaming nor did the problem of Global Warming. Only the titles changed, not the issues.

Shakespeare said a rose by any other name would smell just as sweet, Luntz would argue that while the smell may be the same, the association is not as consistent.

Luntz explained that eighty percent of our life is emotion, and only twenty percent is intellect. He is much more interested in how you feel than how you think.”It’s all emotion. But there’s nothing wrong with emotion. When we are in love, we are not rational; we are emotional. When we are on vacation, we are not rational; we are emotional. When we are happy, we are not [rational]. In fact, in more cases than not, when we are rational, we’re actually unhappy” (The Persuaders).

Do you think his career is built on manipulation or does is he an innovator simply capitalizing on connotations? How can marketers apply these types of word alterations to their own products or companies to achieve the same success? Is it authentic and perhaps more importantly, is it that easy?