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Brain-strained & Ill-informed: Why People Support Trump, Pt 2

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Don’t miss yesterday’s entry, Part 1 of how Trump followers don’t deserve to be taken seriously when they argue (among other things.)

Yesterday I gave definitions for some important and big words, and explained how Trump is a narcissist.

Today we’re going to look at an article from 2016 about studies done even back then to explain why Trump followers are so easily fooled.

The only thing that might be more perplexing than the psychology of Donald Trump is the psychology of his supporters. In their eyes, The Donald can do no wrong… So how exactly are Trump loyalists psychologically or neurologically different from everyone else? What is going on in their brains that makes them so blindly devoted?

I think it’s important to really examine that. What makes them tick? Why are they willing to pull down a democracy to “save” America? Democratic elections are what America is all about (or supposed to be) so what rationalizations are they using to be willing to go against everything they stand for when a Narcissist like Trump tells them to?

1. The Dunning-Kruger Effect

Some believe that many of those who support Donald Trump do so because of ignorance — basically they are under-informed or misinformed about the issues at hand. When Trump tells them that something is true, they take his word for it.

The seemingly obvious solution would be to try to reach those people through political ads, expert opinions, and logical arguments that educate with facts. Except none of those things seem to be swaying any Trump supporters from his side, despite great efforts to deliver this information to them directly.

The Dunning-Kruger effect explains that the problem isn’t just that they are misinformed; it’s that they are completely unaware that they are misinformed. This creates a double burden.

Studies have shown that people who lack expertise in some area of knowledge often have a cognitive bias that prevents them from realizing that they lack expertise. As psychologist David Dunning wrote in an op-ed for Politico, “The knowledge and intelligence that are required to be good at a task are often the same qualities needed to recognize that one is not good at that task — and if one lacks such knowledge and intelligence, one remains ignorant that one is not good at the task. This includes political judgment.” Essentially, they’re not smart enough to realize they’re dumb.

And if one is under the illusion that they have sufficient or even superior knowledge, then they have no reason to defer to anyone else’s judgment. This helps explain why even nonpartisan experts, as well as some respected Republican politicians, don’t seem to be able to say anything that can change the minds of loyal Trump followers.

Trump followers don’t even realize that anyone else is worth listening to. More intelligent people look for a variety of sources for information. We question claims, we doubt things on face value and instead investigate more deeply to uncover the truth. This is not something Trumpers engage in. They tend to keep to the sites and the people who all agree and rarely even check out the opposite side. People like me who check out both sides carefully are more likely to find out what’s really going on. But then, my I.Q. tests from the high 150s to the low 160s, which is only found in 1 in 10,000 to 1 in 32,000 people. In other words, I’m not the one likely to make the mistake. But, being genuinely intelligent, I doubt myself more than stupid people do, because the more I learn, the more I realize there is “out” in the universe to learn and understand. Interestingly, the Dunning-Kruger effect says that more intelligent people DO, in fact, doubt themselves more.

Which means if you are certain sure you’re right, and rarely doubt that, you’re likely to be below normal intelligence.

2. Hypersensitivity to Threat

Science has unequivocally shown that the conservative brain has an exaggerated fear response when faced with stimuli that may be perceived as threatening. A 2008 study in the journal Science found that conservatives have a stronger physiological reaction to startling noises and graphic images compared to liberals. A brain-imaging study published in Current Biology revealed that those who lean right politically tend to have a larger amygdala — a structure that is electrically active during states of fear and anxiety. And a 2014 fMRI study found that it is possible to predict whether someone is a liberal or conservative simply by looking at their brain activity while they view threatening or disgusting images, such as mutilated bodies. Specifically, the brains of self-identified conservatives generated more activity overall in response to the disturbing images.

So how does this help explain the unbridled loyalty of Trump supporters? These brain responses are automatic, and not influenced by logic or reason. As long as Trump continues his fear mongering by constantly portraying Muslims and Mexican immigrants as imminent dangers, many conservative brains will involuntarily light up like light bulbs being controlled by a switch. Fear keeps his followers energized and focused on safety. And when you think you’ve found your protector, you become less concerned with remarks that would normally be seen as highly offensive.

In other words, conservatives are highly likely to have epigenetic brain damage due to environmental factors (stressful pregnancy when their mother was carrying them and a stressful household during their first year of life changes how several genes work.) Their fear and anger responses become easily over-stimulated, which means their “danger signals” are so loud, it drowns out their ability to think with reasoned logic. Again, as stated in yesterday’s entry, looking for security and safety, Trumpers are much more likely to fall for an evil person who promises them this safety… IF, that is, they do as he tells them. Political correctness, and even basic compassion, go out the door for people whose brains run on negative emotions rather than on logical curiosity for the truth. Many, MANY studies bear this out.

3. Terror Management Theory

A well-supported theory from social psychology, called Terror Management Theory, explains why Trump’s fear mongering is doubly effective.

The theory is based on the fact that humans have a unique awareness of their own mortality. The inevitably of one’s death creates existential terror and anxiety that is always residing below the surface. In order to manage this terror, humans adopt cultural worldviews — like religions, political ideologies, and national identities — that act as a buffer by instilling life with meaning and value.

Terror Management Theory predicts that when people are reminded of their own mortality, which happens with fear mongering, they will more strongly defend those who share their worldviews and national or ethnic identity, and act out more aggressively towards those who do not. Hundreds of studies have confirmed this hypothesis, and some have specifically shown that triggering thoughts of death tends to shift people towards the right.

Not only do death reminders increase nationalism, they influence actual voting habits in favor of more conservative presidential candidates. And more disturbingly, in a study with American students, scientists found that making mortality salient increased support for extreme military interventions by American forces that could kill thousands of civilians overseas. Interestingly, the effect was present only in conservatives, which can likely be attributed to their heightened fear response.

By constantly emphasizing existential threat, Trump creates a psychological condition that makes the brain respond positively rather than negatively to bigoted statements and divisive rhetoric. Liberals and Independents who have been puzzled over why Trump hasn’t lost supporters after such highly offensive comments need look no further than Terror Management Theory.

Clearly, Trump is exploiting people’s fear of death and change (death to a old way of living, for instance, having brown people move into a town or women getting power or new religions moving into an area.) He keeps repeating how “it will be too late if you don’t do what I say and fight back.” We’ve all seen those ads. We’ve seen Trump talking this way constantly at his rallies, getting everyone all riled up and ANGRY and feeling JUSTIFIED in doing “whatever it takes” to make sure their chosen “protector” (who is not a protector, but rather an exploiter who doesn’t give the slightest SHIT about any of his followers) keeps his power and continues to add to it.

4. High Attentional Engagement

According to a recent study that monitored brain activity while participants watched 40 minutes of political ads and debate clips from the presidential candidates, Donald Trump is unique in his ability to keep the brain engaged. While Hillary Clinton could only hold attention for so long, Trump kept both attention and emotional arousal high throughout the viewing session. This pattern of activity was seen even when Trump made remarks that individuals didn’t necessarily agree with. His showmanship and simple messages clearly resonate at a visceral level.

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. 

People with limited cognitive function prefer things to be kept simple and FUN. Like children, they require short messages with a lot of emotion to stay entertained or their attention wanders. More sophisticated voters are able to stay engaged even when wading through a great deal of information, while Trumpers don’t have the cognitive stamina to do this, limiting their ability to weigh and measure other sources of information.

Again, this is a pattern seen with evil dictators around the world throughout the 20ths century and into this one. To people like me, a guy like Trump seems laughably buffoonish. Who could take this character seriously? Well, stupid people with simple brains who need to be entertained and are easily angered and scared would– and have. Studies on Trump supporters have again and again found fault with cognition and psychology. And these stupid, crazy, simple people are the ones who are freaking out right now and attempting and planning to overthrow a government because their cult leader LOST, fair and square. He lies and says there’s fraud, and they believe him, because they’re too limited to be able to see through what all the rest of us with working brains can tell right away.

I’d feel sorry for the poor idiots, being used like this, if they weren’t so fucking MEAN. (As comments from him or them have PROVEN my point most excellently!)


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