Azarian On Trump Supporters

On August 4, 2016, science writer Bobby Azarian (Ph.D. Neuroscience), posted this article, entitled “A neuroscientist explains what may be wrong with Trump supporters’ brains”, to rawstory.com. In it, he explains how neuroscience suggests that Donald Trump supporters are:

Dumb: Courtesy of the Dunning-Kruger effect, Trump supporters are “…not smart enough to realize they’re dumb.” Yes, the Dunning-Kruger effect is exactly what it sounds like. If you’re not smart about a subject, then your lack of smarts may keep you from realizing that you’re not smart about the subject.

Ignorant: Azarian also states that “…that’s the nature of the Dunning-Kruger effect — one’s ignorance is completely invisible to them.

Easily Manipulable Through Fear: Azarian tells us that “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.” Apparently liberals, including even those who are willing to sign away our economy and sovereignty in order to avoid the terrifying doom of climate change, aren’t susceptible to being manipulated by fear of climate change in order to sign away our economy and sovereignty. Oh, and apparently if you listen to Trump then you’re probably a bigot too (bet that one surprised you).

Reading his text, I’m astounded at the extent to which he accepts the notion that the stereotypical American liberal worldview is the norm. More than that, that it’s a healthy norm against which other worldviews are to be measured and, should they fail to exhibit an acceptable degree of agreement, be found wanting.

What makes this interesting isn’t the personal politics. There’s nothing unusual about a person holding a politically biased viewpoint. I certainly do (mostly conservatarian). It’s the extent to which people, even those with expert qualifications, can hold such an extreme bias, apparently without being aware of it.

In order to demonstrate this, I took a section of Azarian’s text and rewrote it with the bias reversed. Basically, this meant exchanging words like “conservative” and “exaggerated” for their antonyms, and rewriting a few phrases that contained negative connotations in order to contain positive connotations instead, and vice-versa. First, I’ll provide one paragraph from the original text. The full story at rawstory.com can be found here (this is the same link that I gave above). He writes:

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 classic 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.

Now I’ll provide my version of the same paragraph, with the bias reversed:

Hyposensitivity to Threat
Science has unequivocally shown that the liberal brain has a diminished fear response when faced with stimuli that may be perceived as threatening. A classic study in the journal Science found that liberals have a weaker physiological reaction to startling noises and graphic images compared to conservatives. A brain-imaging study published in Current Biology revealed that those who lean left politically tend to have a smaller 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 conservative or liberal simply by looking at their brain activity while they view threatening or disturbing images, such as mutilated bodies. Specifically, the brains of self-identified liberals generated less activity overall in response to images that suggest the need to take effective action for the preservation of oneself or others.

What a difference a little bit of perspective makes! Perhaps we’d all do well to challenge our own basic beliefs a little more closely.


Disagree with me? Think I’m dumb, ignorant, or easily manipulable through fear? Then tell me in a response below.


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