The Fame Brain

Some of the posts here will not always deal with voice directly, but rather look at the whole picture of support for artists.  The following blog is one that I carry a lot of passion for.  I look forward to input from as many of you that feel you can contribute ideas to this.




Our world has never had the visibility portals it has now. YouTube, Facebook, Vimeo, and other online outlets, as well as T.V. shows such as The Voice, American Idol, America’s Got Talent, and other spectator/talent shows provide the ability for anyone to become talent du jour.

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Certainly there are positives to this democratization of talent and leveling of the playing field, but as with any changes in social behaviors, there are negatives.  The general public’s desire to be famous has grown immensely.  Collectively as a society, we have not prepared those entering the world of fame properly. 

Preliminary studies show that fame and intense adoration produce the same effects on the brain as cocaine.  When cocaine is used intensely and over a long period of time there are reductions in dopamine receptors and overall brain activity. The hardwiring of the brain is also changed. 

These preliminary studies along with the anecdotal accounts and individual case studies point to the seriousness of the possible side effects of fame.  Further research is needed to more fully understand these effects and changes and to suggest preventative and treatment measures. 

An in-comprehensive list of questions that arise from this are: 

How can we help those entering the entertainment business educate themselves about the possible effects of fame?

What are better ways to manage fame?

How can parents of young artists be more prepared for the effects of fame on their child and themselves?

What are the behavioral early warning signs of fame changing the brain? 

What environments can families and communities provide that might attenuate these effects and offer more stability for the artist? 

What is the threshold for being supportive to a developing artist and feeding the fame brain? 

How can we help artists who go through cycles of fame as a normal part of releasing products?

How can we help artists who experience a natural decline in fame over a period of time?

Like any substance abuse, fame affects different people in different ways.  Not everyone has an addictive personality, and not everyone needs to continually feed the addiction.  However, we need to be honest about the allure of fame and what it does, not only to the artist, but also to those around the artist.  Friends and family can also be affected by the fame created by an artist, and their brains can change as well.  There are numerous examples of entertainers whose lives grew into a vortex of dysfunction the more famous they became.  We can also point to multiple examples of entertainers’ families that became proportionately dysfunctional as the fame grew.

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At this point, the study of fame is very similar to  the fact that we know there are more red cars in accidents than any other color of car.  Does that tell us that red cars are more likely to get in accidents just because they are red?  Or is it that reckless drivers prefer the color red?  Or are there more red cars on the road,than any other color, leading to more red cars being in accidents than a less dominant color? 

There are so many factors that contribute to the negative affects of someone who goes from obscurity to fame.  It is unclear exactly what triggers the resulting behavior.  

Drugs and alcohol become a familiar topic when discussing celebrity and fame.  We quickly treat individuals who become addicted to these substances through rehab and support, but those who suffer from the affects of fame are ridiculed and blasted.  Drugs and alcohol are actually ways to escape from the effects of fame.  Treating substance abuse without addressing the aspects of fame that led to the abuse is simply treating some of the symptoms while ignoring the root problem.

Yet, unlike substance, fame is necessary to be commercially successful and financially stable.   Entertaining is, in the end, a job. Selling music, giving shows, making appearances, etc. is directly related to the artist’s level of recognition and fame. This must not be overlooked.  Fame needs to be managed, not eliminated..  Honesty in this area is the only way to truly help artists who are affected by fame. Recognizing that there is potential for disaster and knowing when and how to initiate a plan to counter or eliminate the possible negative consequences must concern all of us who work with artists.  I separate this as fame vs the fame brain.

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20 years ago or more, those suffering from substance abuse were viewed as less than human.  The drunk or the alcoholic was somehow less than the rest of us.  Through study of how addiction works, we have learned that it’s a disease and can be managed and treated. Those with addiction can be treated and their suffering diminished or eliminated. They are no less than we; they are one of us. Why have we not spent any time and resources along the same lines regarding fame?

It is now time to start talking about the consequences of fame in a constructive way.  I am advocating that we begin discussions and create support and educational programs for those who want to enter the entertainment world. I feel passionately that those who nurture talent and those who benefit from other’s talent become part of an education and support network for the famous and fame seekers.  We need to make talking about fame management as common as talking about channels of marketing or product development.  

Until now, few have looked at education about fame and managing the effects of fame on a person as a foundational component for talent development.  There are plenty of “Fame Coaches” out there, but these individuals are ignoring the negative effects of what they sell.  In fact some of what they teach is a direct feed to the fame brain:  the negative feed to the brain that creates a decrease in dopamine receptors and other issues.

Even though a discussion of the negative consequences of fame may fall upon some deaf ears, I feel strongly that it is a banner that those of us who work with famous people need to pick up and carry. 

As nourishers of talent, why have we ignored this?  One reason could be that it feels like a waste of resources to offer support to the rich and famous.  They have plenty of resources, don’t they? Yet, this is obviously not true.  A quick reference to the German word schadenfreude gives a bit of insight to why?  Schadenfreude means to derive pleasure from the misfortunes of others.  Cultures love to deify entertainers and then take great pleasure in watching them fall from the peak of their career. 


My objective is not to change how cultures deal with fame, but how entertainers deal with culture and fame.  We may never be able to stop the toxic cultural desire to watch someone fall apart any more than we can stop gossip or envy, but we can support and prepare artists and entertainers to manage what happens to them through fame. As a result we can help them deal with possible toxic cultural behaviors or the side effects of massive success.  

I have read many books and articles regarding the fame brain, yet none seem to suggest a plan to address the problem.  They tend to only point out the problem.  If indeed the brain is being affected and possibly re-wired, we need to dig into real solutions for helping those who choose to become an entertainer.  We love our heroes of music, acting, sports, or any other area of visibility.  We owe it to them to help support and protect them.  We need more information and we need honest discussions.

Below are what I consider sub-topics to be addressed:

Sport/Athletes vs. Entertainer – Why is there a difference?  All of the current research is in the area of sports, seemingly due to the fact there is a cycle down with sports and entertainment there is not. 

How are fame and mental illness connected or correlated?  Are there artists who are predisposed towards mental illness that fame enhances?  Or, does the artist experience mental illness from the affects of fame? 

What is the relationship between fame and power?

Are child stars more likely to experience negative effects from fame than adult stars? 

Can the negative effects of fame on a child entertainer be reversed?      

This article is not proposing answers.  I wrote this to motivate discussion, to generate ideas and to begin to consider solutions.  I welcome input and replies; I only ask our discussions remain focused on finding answers and asking questions that are respectful of the famous and those suffering from the ill effects of fame.  We will not venture into bashing or tabloid style discussions. 


Below are links that I encourage you to read or watch.

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