First published 7/12 in response to the theater shooting in Aurora, CO
Was there an accomplice in the Aurora, Colorado, super-hero-wanna- be killing spree? Absolutely. The neurochemical, dopamine. James Holmes’s brain was inundated by dopamine, and when he opened fire in the theater, every function of his mind was under its spell. How did he get it? His brain made it for him.
All brains make it because in the right amounts, it rewards us for eating, reproducing, and avoiding danger. But too much? We’re addicts – just more or less out of control addicts. Risk-taking and confrontation always guarantee a dose. Crazy, political rants, about real or imagined threats, hand out hits that keep us hooked and coming back to talk radio or television entertainment “news” for our nightly fix. Video games are major pushers, leaving players high on dopamine for hours after gaming. Who plays for 30 minutes once a week? Doritos and Snickers, porn, gambling and shopping, can crank up our dopamine machinery, as well.
What happened in Aurora was a perfect storm of massive mental malfunctioning. To uncover which activities and behavior pushed James Holmes’s dopamine levels into the red zone, will be to uncover something of value in this real-life nightmare .Being obsessed with video games, as James Holmes friends claim he is, can’t guarantee it, but long hours playing violent video games, would, according to neuroscience, be a great place to start.
Constant threats of death, the competition for “kills”, the deafening explosions, roar of fighter aircraft, and gunfire, activate raging, addictive dopamine highs, limiting minds to a state of “battlefield brain”, where the Human Brain (prefrontal cortex) shuts down and takes reality with it. The Animal/Mammalian Brain takes charge, and is literally calling the shots. Saturate a brain with enough dopamine, the addictive reward of violent images and ideas in films, television, or video realities, and in the wrong circumstances, and it can become a brain programmed to operate as an obsessed killing machine.
If James Holmes wasn’t addicted to video gaming would the massacre have happened? No guarantees. But given the neuroscience we can be sure of, why tempt fate by putting millions of minds at potential risk of committing unthinkable acts of inhumanity? For the sake of entertainment?