A new neuroscience study has found that President Donald J. Trump’s inflammatory tactics are less likely to activate the same decision-making circuits in the brain as they did in 2016 – even as Trump continues to manipulate and vilify his enemies and use the same divisive strategies on the campaign trail as he did four years ago, Scientific American reported.
“Another surprise victory is unlikely to happen again if this election is looked at from the same perspective of neuroscience that I used to account for the surprising outcome in 2016,” wrote R. Douglas Fields, senior investigator at the National Institutes of Health’s Section on Nervous System Development and Plasticity.
Fields added that, “our brain provides two different mechanisms of decision-making; one is conscious and deliberative, and the other is automatic, driven by emotion and especially by fear. Trump’s strategy does not target the neural circuitry of reason in the cerebral cortex; it provokes the limbic system. In the 2016 election, undecided voters were influenced by the brain’s fear-driven impulses—more simply, gut instinct—once they arrived inside the voting booth, even though they were unable to explain their decision to pre-election pollsters in a carefully reasoned manner.”
“Biden wants to surrender our country to the violent left-wing mob,” Trump said on the campaign trail Sept. 17. “If Biden wins, very simple, China wins. If Biden wins, the mob wins. If Biden wins, the rioters, anarchists, arsonists and flag-burners, they win.”
During a previous debate this election cycle, Trump told the Proud Boys, an extremist hate group, to “stand back, and stand by.” He later refused to denounce his call to action when prompted by his Democratic opponent Joe Biden. “I am your wall between the American dream and chaos,” he said.
The scare tactics are less likely to work this time around because humans have been shown to overcome fear in two ways: by reason and experience.
“Inhibitory neural pathways from the prefrontal cortex to the limbic system will enable reason to quash fear if the dangers are not grounded in fact,” Fields wrote. “The type of street violence Trump rails against now was not the norm during the Obama and Biden years.”
On the subject of “alternative facts,” Fields offered, “Trump’s dismissal of experts, be they military generals, career public servants, scientists, or even his own political appointees, is necessary for him to sustain the subcortical decision-making in voters’ minds that won him election and sustains his support. The fact-based decision-making that scientists rely upon is the polar opposite of emotion-based decision-making. In his rhetoric, Trump does not address factual evidence; he dismisses or suppresses it even for events that are apparent to many, including global warming, foreign intervention in U.S. elections, the trivial head count at his inauguration, and even the projected path of a destructive hurricane. Instead, ‘alternative facts,’ or fabrications, are substituted.”
This time around, there are less surprises from the former reality star’s campaign because Americans have seen it all many times before – and they can better respond to the stressors.
“The ‘gut -reaction’ decision-making process excels in complex situations where there is not enough factual information or time to make a reasoned decision,” Fields wrote. “We follow gut instinct, for example, when selecting a dish from a menu at a new restaurant, where we have never seen or tasted the offering before. We’ve had our fill of the politics this time, no matter what position one may favor. Whether voters choose to vote for Trump on the basis of emotion or reason, they will be better able to articulate the reasons, or rationalizations, for their choice. This should give pollsters better data to make a more accurate prediction.”