The Leading Edge – Final Debate – “Mad” Dog vs. Cool, Calm and “Elected”

In the final Presidential debate, John McCain demonstrated “fearful aggression.” This triggers a reaction in viewers’ mirror neurons, compelling them to feel their own feel fearful aggression.


Do you own a dog? Do you own a show dog?


If you owned a show dog, you would probably know the term “fearful aggression.” It occurs in tightly wound dogs that growl when they are afraid and it has to be trained out of them or else they will be kicked out and never win “best in show” You saw examples of that in the comedy movie of the same name.

Dogs are not the only living creatures with fearful aggression. People have it and John McCain has it. And it was on full display in the final Presidential debate. The drawback with having it and demonstrating it is that it triggers a reaction in viewers’ mirror neurons. According to UCLA neuroscientist, Marco Iacoboni that is the part of your brain that fires when you watch someone do something (that causes you to yawn when they yawn) and causes you to feel what they are feeling. This region is thought to be the site of empathy. This also means that viewers will also be compelled to feel their own feel fearful aggression.

So if McCain appeared uncomfortable in his own skin, it can cause viewers to feel the same.
On the other hand the frequent smile that Obama showed was more a sign of his embarrassment for McCain who was coming off as a jerk and not appearing to either know it or care about it. When our mirror neurons observed Obama, we could relate to his embarrassment for McCain, because we also felt it.

The main problem for McCain showing this is that it caused viewers to feel dissonance. Dissonance occurs when what you see and hear from someone else doesn’t match what you feel about them. In other words: “What are you going to do FOR me?/What are you going to do TO me?” Dissonance causes people to “buy out” vs. “buy in” to what you’re saying. In McCain’s case, when we watch someone who is so out of touch with how he is coming off, it can add to the feeling of his being out of touch with us.

Being in touch is not just critical to winning the election, but in being an effective leader. When people feel you really get where they’re coming from, they’re more likely to let you take them where you’d like them to go.

About the author

Mark Goulston, M.D. is the Co-Fonder of Heartfelt Leadership a global community whose Mission of Daring to Care it dedicated to identifying, celebrating, developing and supporting heartfelt leaders who are as committed to making a difference as they are to making a profit