R. Douglas Fields | Why We Snap (Episode 606)

R. Douglas Fields | Why We Snap (Episode 606)

R. Douglas Fields | Why We Snap (Episode 606)

R. Douglas Fields (@RDouglasFields1) is a neuroscientist based in Bethesda, MD and author of Why We Snap: Understanding the Rage Circuit in Your Brain.

The Cheat Sheet for Understanding Rage and Why We Snap:

  • What is rage, and what evolutionary purpose does it serve?
  • What makes ordinary people “snap” — that is, react violently when triggered by rage?
  • Can we control our urge to snap when rage overtakes us?
  • Understand the nine triggers of rage.
  • LIFEMORTS: the mnemonic that helps us identify when rage intrudes so we can get a rational handle on it preemptively.
  • And so much more…


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(Download Transcript Here)

To at least some degree, we’ve all experienced rage — especially if we’ve ever had to drive in rush hour traffic or gotten stuck behind a full cart in the grocery store’s express checkout lane. But at what point does this rage boil over from internal turmoil into regrettable action?

Neurologist R. Douglas Fields is the author of Why We Snap: Understanding the Rage Circuit in Your Brain; he joins us to identify the nine triggers of rage, the LIFEMORTS mnemonic we can use to remember them, and how we can quickly prevent them from goading us into making lamentable decisions. Listen, learn, and enjoy!

More About This Show

With over 150 papers published in scientific journals and a few books under his belt, neurologist R. Douglas Fields (also known as “Doug” to his fellow humans) has been researching the cellular mechanisms of brain development, plasticity, and the mechanisms of memory for decades. So what prompted him to write his most recent work, Why We Snap: Understanding the Rage Circuit in Your Brain?

“The idea for this book was sparked when I was robbed on the street in Barcelona on the way to give a lecture on my scientific research at a neuroscience conference,” says Doug. “To my surprise, I instantly fought with the robber to get my wallet back. That’s when I realized that my reaction involved no conscious thinking, and I wanted to understand the neural circuitry that will cause someone to engage in sudden violence risking life and limb, without a thought.

“That research led to the realization that this is an important, overlooked topic, where road rage and the like happen every day. The research then led me to even broader social and international implications of how our brain wiring for violence influences groups, mobs, terrorists, politicians, and nations at war.”

Doug the Neuroninja

Doug describes himself as more of a Woody Allen than an Arnold Schwarzenegger. He was 56 at the time of the robbery, weighing in at 130 pounds, and had zero background in martial arts or fighting techniques — yet he reacted like an action hero. “The guy grabbed my wallet,” Doug says, “I reached back and grabbed him by the neck, flipped him onto the ground, jumped on his back, and put him in a choke hold.

“It turned out to be not just one robber, but a whole gang. And then they pursued us for two hours through the streets of Barcelona. It turned into a scene from a…spy movie or something.”

Doug obviously lived to tell the tale, and says he’s since learned his lesson, but the burning question was raised: what goes on in the brain when an ordinary person is goaded into acting on rage; what makes us — all of us — capable of snapping in times of crisis?

Avoiding Paralysis by Analysis

Rage itself is hard-wired into humanity as a species, and it’s governed by the same circuitry that makes someone react heroically in times of crisis. This is the part of the brain that subconsciously calculates risk and makes decisions quickly without intrusion by rational but time-consuming processes.

If you’ve ever hesitated in the middle of an emergency, you know too well the trouble that comes with paralysis by analysis. So by understanding rage as a component of your brain’s instant response circuitry, it makes sense that it’s prompting you to react in an immediate way — regardless of whatever prudence and planning might otherwise dictate.

“We have the circuitry because we need it,” says Doug. “We call it ‘snapping’ when the outcome is inappropriate.”

LIFEMORTS: Understanding the Nine Triggers of Rage

“If you understand how it works, you can prevent the inappropriate snapping response,” Doug says.

Doug has identified nine triggers of rage, and has come up with an easily remembered mnemonic that helps us get a handle on them: LIFEMORTS (download the PDF here).

LIFEMORTS stands for:

  • L: Life or Limb / Survival
  • I: Insult
  • F: Family / Maternal Aggression
  • E: Environment / Territorialism
  • M: Mate
  • O: Organization
  • R: Resources / Lack of Resources
  • T: Tribe / “Us and Them” Mentality
  • S: Stop — Being Trapped, Restrained, or Cornered

Listen to this episode of The Art of Charm in its entirety to learn more about the science that connects our primal urges — including rage, the overlooked prevalence of rage in society (e.g., road rage), how technology presents greater opportunities for rage to manifest, how chronic stress affect the brain’s circuitry, why Doug rejects the lizard brain as an antiquated notion, the enormous amount of information available to the unconscious mind, how the brain can rewire itself to utilize sensory information that doesn’t factor into conscious thought, why it pays to respect the intuition of experience, how language stands in as a surrogate for violence, how rage differs between men and women, and lots more.


If you enjoyed this session with R. Douglas Fields, let him know by clicking on the link below and sending him a quick shout out at Twitter:

Click here to thank R. Douglas Fields at Twitter!

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