Why We Snap

Understanding the Rage Circuit in Your Brain

Publisher: Dutton
The startling new science behind sudden acts of violence and the nine triggers this groundbreaking researcher has uncovered

We all have a rage circuit we can’t fully control once it is engaged as R. Douglas Fields, PhD, reveals in this essential book for our time.  The daily headlines are filled with examples of otherwise rational people with no history of violence or mental illness suddenly snapping in a domestic dispute, an altercation with police, or road rage attack. We all wish to believe that we are in control of our actions, but the fact is, in certain circumstances we are not. The sad truth is that the right trigger in the right circumstance can unleash a fit of rage in almost anyone.

But there is a twist: Essentially the same pathway in the brain that can result in a violent outburst can also enable us to act heroically and altruistically before our conscious brain knows what we are doing. Think of the stranger who dives into a frigid winter lake to save a drowning child.

Dr. Fields is an internationally recognized neurobiologist and authority on the brain and the cellular mechanisms of memory. He has spent years trying to understand the biological basis of rage and anomalous violence, and he has concluded that our culture’s understanding of the problem is based on an erroneous assumption: that rage attacks are the product of morally or mentally defective individuals, rather than a capacity that we all possess. 

Fields shows that violent behavior is the result of the clash between our evolutionary hardwiring and triggers in our contemporary world. Our personal space is more crowded than ever, we get less sleep, and we just aren't as fit as our ancestors. We need to understand how the hardwiring works and how to recognize the nine triggers. With a totally new perspective, engaging narrative, and practical advice, Why We Snap uncovers the biological roots of the rage response and how we can protect ourselves—and others.

READ AN EXCERPT

1

Snapping Violently

Rage is a short madness.

Horace, Book 1, Epistle ii, line 62

You mustn’t say things about Melanie,” he warns her.

“Who are you to tell me I mustn’t?” she snaps back, vibrating in anger. “You led me on. You made me...

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PRAISE FOR

“An important and timely book that uses neuroscience to illustrate why society must come to terms with our evolutionary heritage.”
Science Magazine

“For those craving an action-packed account of what scientists currently know about how rage works, this book delivers.”
Scientific American MIND


"Synthesizing his own and others’ research and scores of case studies, Fields argues that many apparently inexplicable cases of violent rage are down to a clash between hard-wiring in the brain’s hypothalamus, amygdala andlimbic system, and nine rage triggers, from life-or-death situations to threats to social order... Cogent and timely."
Nature

“Neuroscientist Fields provides insight into the seemingly inexplicable… highly readable… a thoughtful and essential light on one of the darkest aspects of human behavior.”
Publishers Weekly

“Neurobiologist Fields offers a sensible, plainspoken guide to the all-too-common phenomenon of rage… [a] thoughtful and anecdotal examination… Fields’ timely exploration of sudden acts of violence is sure to inspire conversation.”
Booklist


“The interplay between conscious and unconscious cognition is not unfamiliar territory, as readers of Daniel Kahneman or Malcolm Gladwell will recognize, but Fields' personal experience adds a fresh viewpoint to an intriguing subject.”
Kirkus Reviews

“A fusion of news, in-person interviews, and academic research, this book will appeal to readers of popular neuroscience and those seeking specific information on anger and rage.”
Library Journal

“R. Douglas Fields illuminates the intricate neural processes involved in the common human experience of ‘flipping our lid’ as we snap out of clear thinking and into states of rage.  By carefully documenting the brain science beneath the complex states of fury and illustrating with examples of real life stories of those who've ‘lost it’, our expert guide reveals how we can both understand the mechanisms and the triggers for such states and use this new knowledge in practical ways to minimize the potential damage of going down ‘the low road’ with ourselves and others.  This is a fine example of applied neuroscience for the benefit of our common humanity.  Bravo!”
Daniel J. Siegel, MD, author of Brainstorm and Mindsight, Clinical Professor, UCLA School of Medicine, Executive Director, Mindsight Institute
 
“This book is a riveting journey into your brain’s most mysterious, dangerous, and possibly redemptive territory. Douglas Fields guides us into the core of rage, and offers us a blueprint for understanding—and perhaps remedying—the explosions of violence that can mar our world and our lives.”
—Dan Coyle, author of The Talent Code
 
“Doug Fields explores the dark matter of the soul engrained in a the web of neurons in our brain. This is a superbly told investigation into the question of why we snap with urgent, useful implications for our personal lives as well as for the wider world. Everyone should know about the triggers of the rage circuit Doug Fields has defined.”
—Daniela Schiller, PhD, Neuroscientist, Icahn School of Medicine at Mt. Sinai

“A superb must-read for anyone hoping to understand the common neural roots of spontaneous acts of violence, rage, and, yes, heroism.  The argument is both riveting and convincing; the implications are profound, from rethinking the relationship between violence and personal responsibility to possible ways to temper the 'snap' response.”
—Robert Burton, M.D. author of On Being Certain