Praise vs. Blame in My Brain

I’ve written a couple of articles this week about praise.  I know that praise makes me feel good and blame makes me feel bad.  It doesn’t even take blame to make me feel bad.  Just a little negative feedback, even delivered constructively will do the trick.  I’ve been wondering about how the brain reacts to praise and blame.  It turns out that the brain processes praise and blame quite differently and, in fact, our brains are wired to blame rather than praise.

Research shows that blame is processed in the amygdala, the emotional center of the brain.  This is the same area that is famous for the “flight vs. fight” response when we are scared.  Our brains are still wired like those of our primitive ancestors who had to flee or fight when faced with dangerous animals.  The amygdala responds by pumping blood to our extremities and enabling us to act quickly in the face of danger.  On the other hand, praise is processed by a less emotional, more logical area of the brain, without involving the amygdala.  Praise requires some analysis and takes more time to process.

This may explain why we tend to be quick to blame, slow to praise.  It may also explain why we are prone to assign blame rather than to take the time to give someone credit.  On the receiving end, we respond quicker and in a more emotional, perhaps defensive way to being blamed for something.  We want to fight back or possibly ignore the feeling as a means of protecting ourselves.  Praise doesn’t trigger an immediate, emotional response.  We just don’t pay as much attention to praise.

The implications for people who have depression are significant.  Many people who have depression have hyperactive amygdalas.  Their emotional responses to outside stimuli may be stronger in these people.  Perhaps this has something to do with my hypersensitivity to making mistakes, being told that I am wrong, being blamed for something and my difficulty in accepting praise.

Perhaps it’s time for meditation, yoga, and mindfulness to slow my amygdala down.


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