Sex on a Tiger's Brain: A Neuroscientist's View of Tiger Woods
Posted on May 22, 2010
I am sure by now, we have all had our fill of commentaries about Tiger Woods’ infidelity. However, I promise that this blog is not of the jabbing sort. Picture what follows as a “Neuroscience Meets The Enquirer” segment—-where sensationalism is filtered out by truth of brain science. For when one reruns the unfortunate events of this story, there are actually more questions than answers; and I am not talking about the car accident, drug allegations, and the mistress scenarios. I am referring to the unknowns of Tiger’s brain that most likely won’t get adequately addressed in “sex addiction” treatment centers or other traditional psychological settings. Why? Group therapy doesn’t make the brain slices that follow. And “I am sorry” does not adequately tell a researcher which brain process in self-deception malfunctioned.
What do I mean?
Most commentaries one will read on the “diagnostic” analysis of Tiger are all around athlete entitlement and the narcissism that develops from the high profile life. Though I am not saying that this personality typology isn’t at play here in some capacity, I am saying that it may not account for the best description neuro-wise for the breakdown of reality testing. Arguably, neuroscientists will tell you that self-preservation is alot more at play in our decision making everyday than we think. Although most traditional therapists will tell you that that egocentrism becomes a problem when life functioning is severely compromised and extreme manipulation and exploitation of others is at play, I am not sure if we can tell the difference between the objectivity of that and the story we tell ourselves about that. The brain is always commenting on itself and by virtue of that can we all not be narcissistic neurologically speaking? And what about the brain of therapist? Is he or she somehow magically able to rise above the neuro-illusions humanity is plagued with? I think not. So, I am not sure that diagnosis avenue “gets much done” in promoting the necessary behavior change desired.
You see, the brain is a narrative making machine, not a truth-seeking machine—for all of us, not just the “narcissists” if one still disagrees with my universal narcissism theory. If one agrees with my assertion, however, then where we go from here with the analysis of Tiger’s brain takes some wild turns. Hang on.
Rationalizations are inherent in our daily decision making, with each one carrying potentially different cost/benefit ratios, shall we say, on the larger “virtue-making output” scale of life. The kicker is that there are different levels or ontologies of “self-deception” from a clinical angle that can mess with our output. Ultimately, me getting out of bed and living as if I won’t get hit by a car this morning is a delusion where I flooded my brain with some post-hoc confidence that prevented me from staying in a prenatal position in bed fretting about the possibilities of what will happen today.
And so, take a look at the ranking below of different psychological typologies or states of being, arranged by the level of anxiety experienced while rationalizing. The top level represents people who have no anxiety or tension at all, gradually increasing, moving on down to the bottom of the list where the experience is representative of the maximum level of anxiety or tension:
- people who have a brain trauma who develop a neurological condition called confabulation (ie, they can’t move their left arm and yet they will tell you they can when confronted; strong confidence that they are right in the face of real data)
-normal person with neuro-based self-deception (as described above)
-a person making a conscious lie
-full blown obsessive compulsive disorder
So where would a Tiger Woods rest in this typology? Good question. It depends on which of the two factors of self-deception he was arguably impaired on:
- the formation of an ill-grounded belief
- the checking system of the frontal lobe areas that sounds the alarm when one can’t confirm it with reality
Given that I don’t know —nor does media know—if he was self-deluding WITH or WITHOUT internal anxiety/tension, it is hard to say. But that is what you would use as an indicator on diagnosis. However, most traditional psychological assessments have a hard time discerning the “secondary anxiety rating” which is picked up if any on most tests, vs. the primary level experienced by the brain in the moment. So not sure what type of meaningful information comes from this archaic way of doing assessment and treatment if behavior change is the ultimate goal. Otherwise, don’t we risk merely describing the water while people drown and calling that success?
My company gets around these “chicken and egg” neurological illusions by utilizing cutting edge technology that cleans the slate up on the primal brain side of things, where most of this trouble is stirred up—regardless of the diagnosis. We are currently launching a venture with relationships with the world’s top sports agents to prevent the “Tiger Effect” from being a brain burden on the management of these types of the individuals. For it’s not sex on the brain that derailed the image of Tiger Woods; it is the image of the brain that we all have on our own brain that derails us in finding truth.