Biblitz delivers advise

ASK Biblitz about Men and Anger.

... 'If testosterone were beer, she estimates that a 9-year-old boy would get the equivalent of about a cup a day; by the time he turns 15, he's getting two gallons, setting in motion feelings of defiance, dominance, lust, invincibility, recklessness. ...'

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How do I get my husband to stop freaking out over a video game?

More on anger in families and how to cope.
He gets SO emotional about his video games. Once he broke a window! He is in the bedroom pounding the controller into the ground and yelling periodically. I hate creeping around the house waiting for him to calm down. I am so scared of him when he is like this!

Biblitz replies:

Having just read The Male Brain by Dr. Louann Brizendine, I feel somewhat qualified to respond. This video game thing is, in fact, a guy thing and so is his emotional reaction to it. His pleasure/reward center is activated not just by the game but by the rage he now cultivates when he plays to stimulate mental acuity and improve his performance. Basically, guys learn to operate IN SPITE OF strong emotions - fear, anger, usually - so well that many begin to summon these emotions to assist the work/activity providing the possibility of reward. Yours has taken it to frightening extremes and you'll have to speak to him about this. He'll need some professional help managing his misuse of anger if he is unable/unwilling to master it himself.
Be warned: It's quite likely he won't have any idea what you're talking about when you confront him with this, it may be so integrated in his brain by now. Never mind. Persevere. One does not care to live with a large and dangerous child no matter what chemicals are operating in his stupid brain!

Dr. Brizendine on male anger:

... Essentially, men remember facts and figures, but women record not only the facts, but also every detail of the emotion that they're feeling. So when Maria recalled a fight with Joe, she'd not only remember the facts, but she'd reexperience her sadness, anger, and fear all over again.

She said, "It doesn't take much to set him off. I walk around on eggshells waiting for him to blow. And then he follows me around the house from room to room shouting at me and getting more worked up."

Maria was describing a behavior that scientists call autocatalytic, or self-reinforcing, anger. Once some men's anger ignites, it's hard to stop. Their anger gets fueled by testosterone, vasopressin, and cortisol. These hormones reduce a man's physical fear of the opponent and activate his territorial fight reaction. When Maria yells back at Joe, his brain knows she isn't a real threat to him, so her anger just gets him more fired up. His anger is feeding on her anger and then back on his own. Scientists have found that when anger reaches the boiling point in some men, under conditions of high testosterone, it can produce pleasure, egging them on and making their anger harder to control. Joe couldn't admit it to me, because he almost didn't know it himself, but part of his brain was enjoying being angry and seeing her angry. He was getting high from his anger.

This high was what Joe had been using for decades to win competitions. He knew from playing high-school football that getting angry got him fired up. And he now used that energy to help win the sales contests at work. ...

According to studies, people prefer to feel emotions that are potentially useful, even if those feelings are unpleasant. Researchers showed that even though anger can cause flawed thinking by reducing the perceptions of risk and triggering aggression, anger can sometimes make us think more clearly. They concluded that anger prompts more careful and rational analysis of another person's reasoning, so in some instances, anger can make people more rational, not less. ...

... In cultures all over the world, men like Joe consider it perfectly acceptable to express their anger, especially when they feel they're being challenged. So men are often surprised to hear that their wives and children are actually afraid of them. ...

Research shows that angry men get noticed more - not only by other men but also by women. Ironically, it was the same high-testosterone personality traits that had initially attracted Maria to Joe that were now driving them apart. ...
... It was clear to me that Joe and Maria still loved each other. I just needed to help them work on expressing their anger in less destructive ways. But Joe would still need his aggression to motivate him and maintain his place in the pecking order at work ... (From Autocatalytic Anger, pgs. 104-108)

The New York Times Magazine

It's a Guy Thing

Pity the poor woman who overestimates the size of a man's corpus callosum.

By Holly Brubach
Men's Fashion, Spring, 2010

The epic bouts of road rage, the narcolepsy after sex, the fanatical fixation on the Big East standings, the hunger for movies full of gunfire and explosions - finally, we get it. Brizendine fills us in on the male brain's larger areas devoted to muscular action, aggression and sex, formed before birth and modulated throughout life by an exquisitely calibrated blend of testosterone, M llerian inhibiting substance, androstenedione, vasopressin and other hormones that alter perceptions and lay the groundwork for specific behaviors.

Hormones, in Brizendine's (Louann Brizendine, M.D., author of The Male Brain) telling, seem to account for just about everything, leading the reader to wonder where biology leaves off and personal responsibility - to say nothing of blame begins. If testosterone were beer, she estimates that a 9-year-old boy would get the equivalent of about a cup a day; by the time he turns 15, he's getting two gallons, setting in motion feelings of defiance, dominance, lust, invincibility, recklessness and detachment. Teenage boys aren't feigning boredom just to be cool, she assures us. They are bored, because the adolescent male brain's pleasure center is practically numb to any stimulus that isn't cranked to the max. Victory and sex, however, deliver a rush as addictive as cocaine. ...

To the extent that the minds of men and women ever meet, the conditions would seem to be most favorable during andropause, when testosterone and vasopressin declines, and a man's estrogen and oxytocin potentially exert a stronger influence, increasing his capacity for empathy and intimacy. In Brizendine's words, "Hormonally the mature male brain is becoming more like the mature female brain" a prospect you guys will undoubtedly find alarming, though it gives your wives and girlfriends something to look forward to. ...

About those video games:

Research from Stanford University showed that playing Wii activates parts of the male brain linked to dopamine production. Boys get rewarded by this feel-good brain chemical, just as they do when they're roughhousing. The more opponents they conquer, the more stimulated their male brain becomes, and the more dopamine their brains release. It's a thrill a minute.

Even in a conventional video game, when a boy is not actually moving, watching every move of the athlete or video character still gives him a thrill. Moreover, the signal gets sent from his brain through the neurons and into the muscles in his body even if he isn't moving. If we were to watch David's body and brain with an fMRI camera when he plays a game like Super Mario Brothers, every time he makes Mario jump, we'd see David's brain activate the neurons that control his own jumping muscles. He would embody the movement he sees even though he's not really jumping. Boys react more physically to their environment than girls do in this way. Their muscles are practically twitching in response to everything they see going on around them. And that difference may mean that boys use their muscles and nervous system more than girls to think and express themselves as well. ...

... In the following six weeks of the experiment, they (researchers) taught the girls to explain their answers (to conceptual math problems) with the same muscle movements the boys had made without using words. At the end of the six weeks, once the girls stopped talking and started twisting and turning, they solved the problems as quickly as the boys. The male and female brains have access to the same circuits but, without intervention, use them differently. (From Squirming Boys Learn Better, pgs. 25-26)

... When Erin McClure and colleagues at the National Institute of Mental Health scanned teenagers' brains while they looked at schocking pictures of grotesque and mutilated bodies, their brains didn't activate as much as children's or adults'. As many high-school teachers know, the teen boy brain needs to be more intensely scared or shocked to become activated event he tiniest bit. The amount of stimulation it takes to make an adult cringe will barely get a rise out of a teen boy. If you want to startle them enough to make them scream or jump, you'll have to magnify the experience with sounds, lights, action, and gore. ... This preference may not change as boys reach manhood, as blockbuster moviemakers well know. But grown men don't need the same raw rush as they did when they were thrill-seeking teens. (From The Teen Boy Brain, p. 37)

Note: Biblitz notes with interest that boys' physical style of learning has been well known to Waldorf schools for some time now and teachers appeal to and encourage it in both genders quite liberally. It's a mystery why public educators do not actively seek expertise from such sources.