The State of the American Brain: Psychotherapist Dr. Robi Ludwig and Neurobiologist Dr. Kristen Willeumier Join Us for a Compelling Roundtable Discussion

Welcome to a special CYInterview segment. We are proud to bring you an important roundtable discussion entitled, “The State of the American Brain.”

Technology grows at a dizzying pace. People seem to be more sedentary than ever before. Life expectancy appears to be up but so do the number of people who are overweight and obese. We face violence in society, most apparently when maniacs attack innocent individuals going about their daily lives. Our entertainment is filled with violence.

Our media is a nonstop feeding frenzy intent on getting views, reads, listens and clicks but many wonder when the same level of energy will be focused on the big, important stories instead of the ones that are simply salacious and attention grabbing.

Legions of people seem to be walking around in some kind of trance, slavishly interacting with their cellphones and not much else.

Questions jump to mind. How does all of this affect the brain? Are technology, media and entertainment evolving in a way that is difficult for us to keep up with? Are we heading for better or worse times for mental health?

In order to get some answers to those questions and gain greater insight into the current state of mental health, we called upon a couple of esteemed, past CYInterview guests. Joining us for this panel was nationally renowned psychotherapist Dr. Robi Ludwig, who appears frequently in the media. Also joining us was neurobiologist Dr. Kristen Willeumier, a rising star from the Amen Clinics in California, who specializes in brain chemistry among other things. And rounding out the panel was our own Chris Yandek, to add a journalist’s point of view to the discussion.

Topics discussed by the panel included:

Our attention span in the age of the social web, e.g. Facebook, Twitter, etc.

Has the Internet fundamentally changed the way in which our relationships are formed and developed?

Reality television, how does it affect us?

Is schadenfreude – taking pleasure in someone else’s misfortune – a built in part of the human experience? Is there something in the brain/psyche which causes us to gain joy from the troubles of others?

Questions about nature and nurture, genetics vs. environment, brain vs. mind, when it comes to our behavior. Additionally, some information about how psychotherapy and emerging information about brain chemistry might be blended in the pursuit of better mental functioning.

Below are a couple of highlights from our more than 50 minute CYInterview panel on the brain. The entire discussion makes for compelling listening. Read the highlights and listen to the entire discussion below:

Listen to the entire “State of the American Brain” CYInterview:

Inserting Audio Using embed Element

(Backup Player: Including IE)

One of the areas that stood out, in this intriguing discussion, was the topic of schadenfreude; that is when people take pleasure from the misfortunes of others. To some of us, that kind of behavior seems to be on the rise.

Dr. Robi Ludwig believes that individuals feeling better about their life circumstances by comparing their challenges with others who have things tougher will always be part of our makeup:

“If we’re kind of aware of all the negatives, then maybe in someway that will help us to figure out how we can survive better. So if you understand that human nature is more inclined to feel badly or negative about themselves than good, then it would make sense to, I guess gain insight into why we might feel happy when somebody else is doing badly in part because we’re competitive by nature, it’s hard to feel good about ourselves in general and so when we see somebody else failing, it’s almost like, well, life is fair or I’m not the only one or it helps us to get a little bit of a charge about our own lives.

And I think that’s why, this is just part of human nature. This will be true to the end of time and it might take different forms given our culture and society and different ways we can express it, but this will probably always exist to some extent.”

On this subject of schadenfreude, Dr. Kristen Willeumier agrees with Dr. Ludwig’s perspective. Dr. Willeumier, however, makes the point that thinking negatively and frequently gaining pleasure from other people’s misfortunes is not healthy:

“It’s an interesting terminology in you know if you’re looking at the brain of somebody who is getting pleasure out of seeing other people failing, that’s an area of the brain called the ventral striatum which releases dopamine and dopamine is sort of the pleasure neurotransmitter. And while I agree with Dr. Ludwig, we will probably always sort of have that experience. I mean, if you have a hard day I think people come home, they sit in front of the TV and they see somebody else’s life for a minute and they think to themselves, ‘Ok, I’m gonna take pleasure in say, watching Linday Lohan, you know potentially go to jail.’ I mean you think about these things and for that little bit, that brief moment they’re feeling good.

So that’s really working these pleasure centers in the brain. Now, hopefully, people aren’t doing this often because we like to think when you continually activate these censors, over time that’s not gonna be healthy for you. So you know we’re always teaching patients to work the positive pathways in the brain and not sort of reinforce the negative pathways.”

Our roundtable discussion with Dr. Ludwig and Dr. Willeumier was both enjoyable and powerful. It is worth listening to the entire 50 minutes to gain some insight into the state of mental health in America, particularly in the face of drastic technological change.

You can find more information about the Amen Clinics at their official website here.

You can find more information about Dr. Kristen Willeumier here

You can check out Dr. Ludwig’s official website at

Dr. Robi Ludwig’s official Twitter is here.

You can reach me with your questions and comments at