Why do I keep having random violent thoughts in public? © Dan Bright

Why do I keep having random violent thoughts in public?

Published: 19th December, 2021 at 11:00
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Alarming thoughts are perfectly normal and are a sign your brain is working as it should be... just as long as you're not acting on them.

Everyone has inappropriate, alarming thoughts that occur to them out of nowhere. Thoughts of violence, of sex, of both. Many people worry that such thoughts mean there’s something wrong with them. But the opposite is true; they actually mean your brain is working normally.


Human brains don’t just learn about the world by observing, experiencing and remembering things that happen to us. They also speculate, anticipate and simulate actions and outcomes. Our brains are constantly churning out thoughts about hypotheticals and ‘what ifs’ regarding our decisions and actions, to give us the best possible chance of succeeding with whatever it is we’re doing.

Most of these will be straightforward, uninteresting, and forgotten quickly. These are ‘mundane’ thoughts. But if your brain is trying to account for every possible option, then logically some of these options will be unpleasant, by dint of having violent, sexual, or other less acceptable qualities.

This is just how the brain works, though. It’s a part of who we are. But so is not acting on them. Such thoughts are believed to be the subconscious brain’s way of checking where the boundaries are. That we experience alarm and distress at the very idea of violence is an important part of the process.

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Dean is a neuroscientist, author, blogger, occasional comedian and all-round ‘science guy’. He is the author of the the popular Guardian Science blog ‘Brain Flapping’ (now ‘Brain Yapping’ on the Cosmic Shambles Network with accompanying podcast), the bestselling books The Idiot Brain and The Happy Brain, and his first book aimed at teens, Why Your Parents Are Driving You Up the Wall and What To Do About It.


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