This is the official Perth blog site for posts, comments, and other contributions about leadership, behavioral finance and economics, and about management generally, as well as other related topics that take our fancy.
Font size: +

Psychobiotics – The New Behavioral Weapons of Mass Digestion?


I’m sure you have heard of the microbiome? That’s the trillions of bacteria in the human gut whose functions we still only dimly understand. But one thing has recently become very clear. That is that the microbiome has a huge impact on our feelings, moods and mental functioning generally.

Here’s the interesting part. It’s also become clear that the microbiome produces many of the same chemicals that are used by the brain such as dopamine and other neurochemicals. And these chemicals can pass through the blood-brain barrier. So many of the chemicals in your gut could be used to change your moods and behavior, and even to address mental disease. The new name for these chemicals is psychobiotics. Think of them as the fancy successor to probiotics.

Right now health and medical experts are licking their chops at the potential these chemicals have to do good. But there are other people who are probably licking their chops too. That’s the marketing guys and the spooks, amongst many others.

The marketing guys now have a brand new way to manipulate and mislead you that’s radically more sophisticated than traditional marketing and advertising. How about psychobiotics in your cereal which make you eat more of a sister brand of cereal? What about snack bars that make you want to buy more expensive doodahs? How about a frappuccino that makes you much more likely to download a Starbucks movie? We've just discovered the next big leap in neuromarketing folks.

But this is the tip of the iceberg. What if I can find details of the exact composition of your individual microbiome and link it you your personal data? Sound impossible? Just ask the Chinese and they can give you the information on at least 18 million Americans from the monumentally incompetent Federal Office of Personnel Management. What’s the odds that they have also purloined the medical records of millions of Americans too?

And not just the Chinese. How about the NSA which has records of everything including no doubt your own personal medical records? Did you know that the Federal Consumer Financial Protection Board, ostensibly set up to protect the privacy of US citizens, has actually instead collected data on 600 million credit card accounts? The Government Accounting Office has just released a report saying that the CFPB doesn’t have sufficient security to protect this data either.

So there’s now enough data lying around unprotected to allow US spooks, foreign governments and hackers and private companies to link your private financial and other data to your medical data, including the data on your microbiome. That’s once hospitals start to collect it, which you can guarantee they will soon, partly for some very good reasons. Just imagine how that data can be abused.

For example I could now link your private financial data with your IP address and microbiome data to figure out how best to impact your mood and mental functioning using a combination of advertising and special offers (e.g. for food or medicines). Maybe I want to do this because you are the senior executive of a competitor and I want to nobble you to make you less effective.

Or I am a romantic rival of your boyfriend and I access hacker data to target his financial and medical data to figure out ways to destabilize him mentally and emotionally so that you switch your attentions to moi. No-one would ever think of doing that, right?

Maybe I am the commanding officer of the armed services of an unnamed Slavic country that has decided it wants to unnerve the entire population of the US so that it won’t attack it if it invades several nearby countries. The commanding officer also has deep information on the moods and emotions of our troops near his country and can gain secret access to the supply chain that provides the food supplies of the defending troops. So he can change their mood to one of defeatism and despair so that when he attacks we won’t defend. I guess no-one would ever think of something so nefarious right?

Of course one can also think of some really beneficial uses of microbiome data. It could help society, government and business in innumerable ways, and it probably will. The unfortunate thing is that they guys who want to abuse this information for bad purposes are probably already way ahead of the good guys. Some of the bad guys are ours too.

We tend to think of weapons of mass destruction as being physically massively destructive ones like nuclear bombs, chemical and biological weapons and poisons in the water supply. But the ultimate weapons of mass destruction are lying right inside you right now just waiting for someone to come along and activate them.

We’re almost there.










Stay Informed

When you subscribe to the blog, we will send you an e-mail when there are new updates on the site so you wouldn't miss them.

Are 3 meals a day unhealthy?
Cheating is a form of innovation

Related Posts


List of all Perth posts