Inside the Houston Astros Cheating Scandal: The Neuroscience of Bad Behavior
Some people are calling it the biggest scandal to rock baseball since the steroid debacle. During the 2017 World Series, the Houston Astros engaged in a sign-stealing scheme that alerted their hitters to know what type of pitch to expect—fastball, breaking ball, change-up, and so on. The Astros went on to beat the Dodgers that year to win the World Series, but that title has been tainted since the cheating scandal came to light.
Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred has slapped the team with punishments, including a $5 million fine and the loss of first- and second-round draft picks for the 2020 and 2021 seasons. But some say this doesn’t go far enough.
It all makes you wonder, why did they cheat?
The Neuroscience of Cheating and Lying
Based on reviewing over 160,000 brain SPECT scans related to behavior from tens of thousands of patients at Amen Clinics, neuropsychiatrist Daniel Amen, MD, says, “Brain dysfunction is the number-one cause of bad behavior.” He suggests it’s likely that a combination of anxiety, obsessiveness, and a lack of a moral code are underlying factors when people engage in bad behavior. “From a neuroscience perspective, lower frontal lobe function often leads to cheating and lying,” he says.
Here are some specific findings based on SPECT imaging that show how abnormal brain activity is linked to cheating and lying.
Problems in the Prefrontal Cortex
The prefrontal cortex is the seat of impulse control, judgment, and empathy. When brain activity is low in this area, it leads to troublesome behavior, such as impulsively lying or cheating, poor decision-making, and a lack of empathy for anyone who may be hurt by your actions. It can also be associated with ADD/ADHD.
Abnormal Activity in the Anxiety and Fear Centers of the Brain
Anxiety often makes people fearful that they are not able to accomplish their goals on their own. Anxious types also have a tendency toward perfectionism, which makes you feel like you can only be valued (or loved) if you end up on top. When this type of anxiety takes hold, you may be more likely to lie or cheat to reach your lofty goals. Looking at the brain with SPECT imaging reveals that anxiety is often associated with abnormal activity in areas, such as the basal ganglia and the amygdala (the brain’s fear center).
When the Brain’s Gear Shifter Gets Stuck
Getting stuck on obsessive thoughts, such as the idea that winning at all costs is the only option, can cause you to get trapped in a course of action—even if deep down you know it isn’t the right thing to do. On SPECT, people with obsessive thinking patterns or compulsive behaviors often show unhealthy brain activity in an area called the anterior cingulate gyrus. Known as the brain’s gear shifter, it’s what helps you go from thought to thought. When it isn’t working right, you tend to get locked into looping thoughts and compulsive behaviors.
Group Dynamics Activate the Brain’s Reward Center
A 2011 study from USC found that the brain places a higher value on winning when you’re in a group than when you’re by yourself. In this trial, winning in a group setting increased activity in an area of the brain associated with rewards as well as an area involved in social reasoning. The study participants who won while in a group setting were more likely to engage in risky and competitive behavior to keep winning. This helps explain why people are more likely to try something stupid, such as cheating, in order to win when they’re with their friends (or teammates).
When Toxins Attack the Brain
SPECT imaging shows that people who abuse alcohol, illicit drugs, or prescription medications tend to have brains that have a toxic appearance. Brain scans of people with addictions show lower overall activity, which is associated with poor judgment and impulse control problems.
Hidden Brain Injuries Impair Judgment
A wealth of research shows that experiencing a blow to the head, say from a fastball to the temple, can lead to brain trauma that increases the risk of impulsivity, anxiety, poor judgment, drug and alcohol abuse, and more.
At Amen Clinics, we take a unique brain-body approach to diagnosis and treatment that includes brain SPECT imaging, as well as laboratory testing to check physical health, and other important factors that could be contributing to symptoms and bad behavior. By getting to the root cause of your symptoms and unwanted behaviors, we can create a more effective, personalized treatment plan for you.
If you want to join the tens of thousands of people who have already enhanced their brain health, overcome their symptoms, and improved their quality of life at Amen Clinics, speak to a specialist today at 888-288-9834. If all our specialists are busy helping others, you can also schedule a time to talk.