The influence of neurobiology and psychology in politics

I’ve been trying to understand the psychology of Trump supporters and was surprised at how often they have been referring to themselves as a “family.” As if they share the same blood, not just the same beliefs and goals. Unless I’m mistaken, November is shaping up to be a showdown between a unified family and everyone else. Like Kennedy in 1960… or Trump in 2016. 

A friend sent me this link that includes a presentation by a psychologist who explains the neurobiology and psychological factors underlying the surprising fidelity Trump supporters, despite his issuance of statements and behavior that has unequivocally destroyed the political careers of other contenders for national office.  It seems that they were all lacking in a few areas that Donald Trump has nurtured and thrived upon.

The Psychology Behind Donald Trump’s Unwavering Support

The psychologist in the poorly edited video embedded in the article speaks way too fast, but the message he’s presenting seems to be well-founded in psychological research over the past few decades. The short version is summed up in the last few paragraphs of his presentation:

Essentially, the loyalty of Trump supporters may in part be explained by America’s addiction with entertainment and reality TV. To some, it doesn’t matter what Trump actually says because he’s so amusing to watch. With Donald, you are always left wondering what outrageous thing he is going to say or do next. He keeps us on the edge of our seat, and for that reason, some Trump supporters will forgive anything he says. They are happy as long as they are kept entertained.

Of course these explanations do not apply to all Trump supporters. In fact, some may support Trump to be rebellious or to introduce chaos into the system. They may have such distaste for the establishment and Hillary Clinton that their vote for Trump is a symbolic middle finger directed at Washington.

So what can we do to potentially change the minds of Trump loyalists before voting day in November? As a cognitive neuroscientist, it grieves me to say that there may be nothing we can do. The overwhelming majority of these people may be beyond reach, at least in the short term. The best we can do is to motivate everyone else to get out to the voting booths.

The problem with the psychologist’s solution, is that we are faced with a choice between a rock and a hard place.  Biden is in many ways as poor a candidate for the Presidency as Trump is.  

Our only actual hope (no matter who is elected to any political office) is to be agents of change for good in our personal lives, and hopefully our example inspires as many others as possible to behave humanely toward their peers, family and associates: tell the truth, share fairly, be thankful, help others and move forward.


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