Last week we reported that some mental health experts were openly speculating that Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump might have legitimate mental disorders. No psychologists or psychiatrists weighed in on the report, because that’s not the first time this happened.
The AMA passed what’s called “the Goldwater Rule” after a minority of psychiatrists diagnosed 1964 Presidential nominee Sen. Barry Goldwater (the father of conservatism) with a variety of mental ailments. The problem is that none of them had seen him anywhere other than on television. Goldwater won a lawsuit against the magazine that published it, and the AMA said it was unethical.
A neuroscientist, writing for Raw Story, just published a lengthy essay about the psychology behind Trump and his supporters.
From Raw Story:
Trump appears to be almost totally bulletproof.
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. Even Trump himself seems to be astonished by this phenomenon. “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody, and I wouldn’t lose any voters, OK? It’s, like, incredible.”
Senator John McCain, who has been a regular target for Trump during his campaign, has a simple explanation for his unwavering support. “What he did was he fired up the crazies.”
The first thing that might “be wrong” with Trump and his supporters is something that affects all of us in some way or another. Called “the Dunning-Krueger Effect,” it’s when unskilled or ill-informed people have an unrealistic view of their superiority or expertise.
As the effect’s (half-)namesake David Dunning wrote for Politico last May:
To sum it up, 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 that task. This includes political judgment.
We have found this pattern in logical reasoning, grammar, emotional intelligence, financial literacy, numeracy, firearm care and safety, debate skill, and college coursework. Others have found a similar lack of insight among poor chess players, unskilled medical lab technicians, medical students unsuccessfully completing an obstetrics/gynecology rotation, and people failing a test on performing CPR.
This explains why Trump has said that he’s his own best advisor and that he understands social and geopolitical matters better than “the experts.” This trait is also likely to be strong in his supporters who are often able to look at his unbelievable gaffes, and explain them away. They see something in Trump that the stupid a-holes who’ve spent their life studying politics or actually governing are just too dumb to see.
This problem is compounded by “High Attentional Engagement,” or that Trump supporters listen to Trump or people who like Trump much more closely than those who do not.
As neuroscientist at Northwestern, Moran Cerf, wrote in January for Fortune:
Here’s why: a recent neuroscience study shows that when people hear their favorite candidate speak, their brains will find a way to explain why everything he or she says is more engaging. At times, people must spend a lot more mental energy processing the content to align it with their views. But if a candidate they don’t like says the same thing, their brains filter that content through a different lens, to find that same message disturbing and alienating.
The DK effect and High Attentional Engagement is not unique to Trump supporters, even in this cycle. Yet, unlike Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, Donald Trump’s messaging is decidedly negative, hostile, and aggressive, which explains why he could have only run for president as a Republican.
A study published in the summer of 2014 found that conservatives and liberals view the world in very different ways. Part of the reason that Trump appeals to “angry” voters, is because the conservative mind is far more susceptible to “disgust” than the liberal one. ”
From a 2014 report by Mother Jones:
John Hibbing of the University of Nebraska and his colleagues, arguing that political conservatives have a “negativity bias,” meaning that they are physiologically more attuned to negative (threatening, disgusting) stimuli in their environments….
In the process, Hibbing et al. marshal a large body of evidence, including their own experiments using eye trackers and other devices to measure the involuntary responses of political partisans to different types of images. One finding? That conservatives respond much more rapidly to threatening and aversive stimuli (for instance, images of “a very large spider on the face of a frightened person, a dazed individual with a bloody face, and an open wound with maggots in it,” as one of their papers put it).
Supporting Donald Trump is not a “mental disorder,” by any stretch of the definition. However, according to a consensus of neuroscientists and other mental health experts, whether or not you support someone like Trump is defined by your mental characteristics.
What do you think? Share your thoughts in the comments below.