Explaining Trump with classic social psychology

Really cool piece from Maria Konnikova in which she asked Psychology scholars to use classic studies to explain the Trump phenomenon.  There’s some real classics that everybody with a passing interest in social psychology should most definitely be familiar with.  That said, my favorite segment was on the relatively recent work of Dan Kahan and discussed by Stephen Pinker:

Over the last decade, Dan Kahan, a psychologist at Yale University, has been studying a phenomenon he calls “cultural cognition,” or how values shape perception of risk and policy beliefs. One of his insights is that people often engage in something called “identity-protective cognition.” They process information in a way that protects their idea of themselves. Incongruous information is discarded, and supporting information is eagerly retained. Our memory actually ends up skewed: we are better able to process and recall the facts that we are motivated to process and recall, while conveniently forgetting those that we would prefer weren’t true. The Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker, one of several to nominate Kahan for this list, said that his theory is best called “political and intellectual tribalism.” Like seeks like, and like affirms like—and people gravitate to the intellectually similar others, even when all of their actions should rightly set off alarm bells.

Trump, Pinker said, won over pretty much the entire Republican Party, and all those who felt alienated from the left, by declaring himself to be opposed to the “establishment” and political correctness. And this all happened, Pinker wrote to me, “despite his obvious temperamental unsuitability for the responsibilities of the Presidency, his opposition to free trade and open borders (which should have, but did not, poison him with the libertarian right), his libertine and irreligious lifestyle (which should have, but did not, poison him with evangelicals), his sympathies with Putin’s Russia (which should have, but did not, poison him with patriots), and his hostility to American military and political alliances with democracies (which should have, but did not, poison him with neoconservatives).”

Yep.  This pretty much nails it as well as anything for explaining Trump.

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About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State http://faculty.chass.ncsu.edu/shgreene

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