Reward system, Dopamine, Neuroscience, Brain, Research What Happens in the Brains of Trumpists? (Bobby Azarian Interview)

, Bobby its great to have you back on today., Speaker 4. Thanks for having me David. Appreciate, it., Speaker 1, So maybe to start with, you know many of us have been seeing. I mean we can go back and talk about during the pandemic.. We can talk about January 6th in many different ways and from different people. Weve. Been seeing behavior that seems dysregulated at minimum and other words that we could apply to it at at worse. If we want to., Can you talk first from a neuroscience standpoint? What is it that is happening when peoples the way? I would, as a layman say it: their common sense seems to be almost hijacked in a sense and they behave in ways that many of us find hard to imagine ever behaving ourselves.. What is it thats taking place? Speaker 4, So I guess the first thing Id say is that if we dont look at whats going on through the lens of science, in particular psychology and more specifically a theory called terror management theory were going to be completely lost about whats going on. Things will Just seem completely random and chaotic and unpredictable. And in a sense they are certainly chaotic, but theyre not totally unpredictable.. So, if were looking at things from the perspective of psychology – and we look at all of the events that have transpired since really the emergence of Trump – really – you can go back farther than that.

. Then we see that a lot of these responses were due to events that call cause existential fear in people., So, for example, Trump. The emergence of Trump himself was a response to fears over ISIS and fears over immigration when Trump took power., Then for people on the left, their fear was having an incompetent leader that Stokes division in the pandemic. Hit. And theres, like its the biggest form of existential fear., Were all freaked out.. So when you have those conditions, basically, that fear creates certain psychological effects that promote tribalism that make us more aggressive towards people who dont share our world view. And once that process happens its very hard to reverse that, because there are certain psychological phenomena like something I Can talk about in a minute called amygdala hijack where basically were controlled by our fears. Were sort of programed, rather than being these rational thinkers. And once this happens, one side becoming more extreme polarized, the other side thats trying to balance that., And then you get on This trajectory, where youre going towards just more divisive state., And so if you dont, do something to get a hold of that basically were headed towards disaster., Speaker 1, So lets think a little bit like, for example, when I hear you say that a lot of this Can be triggered when were around people that dont share our world view, and it creates, creates this Luban cycle with something like the anti vaccine.

Anti mass protests. Im, not seeing the pro vaccine and pro mask people behave the same way as the anti, although in some general sense, maybe it would happen because both are being challenged in terms of their worldview.. The anti mask people are being challenged by the pro and the pro by the anti., But were seeing the erratic behavior almost exclusively from the anti vaccine and anti mask people., So whats, causing that difference that split Speaker, 4 Yes.. So I guess I would say that when youre talking about a very specific topic relating to the mass, then you do see that behavior on the right. That doesnt make sense to us as progressives. But it can do things that so so the left will be more. Like gung ho about wearing masks and taking precautions., So I not that its not that extreme behavior is always bad.. Extremism is bad when the ideas are extremely stupid., So you can have radical good ideas that can transform society. And when you have a situation where theres this looming existential threat like the pandemic, it can catalyze civil rights movements or it can catalyze civil wars. And really, When the threat is so extreme, it kind of does both those things at the same time.. So going back to what you said, I would argue that its not fully on the right and in the left. It manifests itself in different ways for example. Yeah.. So, for example, you have the Black Lives Matter, movement and that really exploded after the George Floyd murder.

, And that was in May just right at the beginning of the pandemic, when in us we started seeing these like warnings to wear, masks not go outside and stuff. Like that. And that explosion that protests like nationwide protests occurred because everyone was so fearful because of the pandemic., And then you had this like countermovement., You had people like saying blue lives matter in response to Black Lives Matter and. That was problematic, didnt even make sense, Because the whole point of Black Lives Matter was saying, black lives should matter as much as everyone elses life.. So it was. It was really all lives matter from the beginning.. Its very ironic that, like the other side, started saying all lives matter when, like that was what the first movement was about.. Anyway, you get this defund the police movement in response to like this right wing, blue lives matter all lives matter thing. And like that slogan, like is very extreme., And now I see political campaign ads using that slogan to scare people away from Democrats.. So I would say that the left matches the right.. They just do it in completely different ways., Speaker, 1 Right. And thats interesting.. You bring up the defund now being used against some on the left. From the beginning. I said I dont think this is a productive slogan and heres why. And its very interesting that you point to that.. I do want to get you mentioned the amygdala hijack.

. Can you talk about what that is So were all on the same page with it. Speaker, 4 Yeah.. So basically, when we go through, life were kind of mostly on autopilot., And some studies have show that the famous LIBET studies on free will basically were programed and we have a certain set of beliefs and goals and we kind of behave according to those.. But a lot of times our programed behavior wont be optimal.. So if were fearful, we might get aggressive. When that happens, theres another part of the brain that is responsible for kicking in and producing rational behavior, where we analyze the situation and then we make decisions. Where were like more in control than being controlled by our instincts and reflexes., So the two brain areas that are important are the amygdala and the prefrontal cortex.. The amygdala is involved in processing threat and it is associated with the fear response.. So when we do perceive a threat, basically it triggers the amygdala and in that puts us in sort of like a fight or flight mode. And then the prefrontal cortex, which is a newer part of the brain evolutionarily evolutionarily., And that part is supposed to calm. The amygdala. And the problem is in times where fear is superhigh. The prefrontal cortex cant do its job, because the amygdala is just constantly being triggered. Theres. Also some interesting studies that show correlations between impaired prefrontal cortex function, which is responsible for this.

. We call it cognitive control or executive control regulating regulating your emotions., And so we see impaired executive control with people who are religious fundamentalists, or we see it with people who score high on surveys of racism.. We see it in people with drug addiction., So basically those people are less in control.. You could say they have less free will because theyre unable to override this programing, and this effect that you have when basically the amygdala hijacks, the cognitive system.. So what we can do about that is become aware of that and simply becoming aware having whats called meta. Awareness can give you control over that., And then there are exercises you can do like practicing mindfulness to kind of strengthen the prefrontal cortex, because it really is like a muscle. Speaker, 1. Thinking of that, I ask this not to excuse me, morally, ethically or legally, the actions of the January 6th rioters, but I ask it in order to try to understand. Is it a type of situation where youre in this mass of people and someone decides to start busting down doors or breaking windows and going in? Is it possible that you sort of experience an amygdala hijack there and you just kind of are riding high and carried in and participating, not because you went intending to do that, but because the situation around you sort of puts you into that state? Is that a situation where this happens Speaker 4 Definitely, and I would like to say that its really important to understand these people, because we dont understand the mindset well have – will be completely lost in terms of how to get through to them.

. So when you talk about empathy for these people, its not so much about like wanting to be a better human being to have empathy, empathy for them. Its really more about being practical, finding a solution to the problem.. So these people, just like you, said during like the capital attack theyre tuned in to social media. Theyre plugged in to the people who are stoking, that fear, constantly. Theyre, responding to the others around them and things that are happening in real time.. And so you kind of get this collective effect where its like., The amygdala hijack, is kind of like spreading from person to person., And once that happens, if theres, not someone that comes out and says, hey everybody like this is kind of crazy right, Its just going To snowball. Speaker 1 Is is mob mentality, kind of a laymans term for group amygdala hijack Speaker, 4; Yes, definitely its related to that its also related to tribalism.. I didnt go into terror management theory.. I know we talked about it last time.. I could talk about that a little bit in relation to like this mob mentality. Speaker, 1. Yeah. I would be interested in hearing that, because I mean what were you know, many of us are starting to say: is this going to happen again? How likely are these folks, who, in some online spaces, are saying if we dont get X its going to be time for January six, part, two or whatever? I think it would be important to understand what it is that could could get them there, but also what could prevent a.

Speaker, 4 Yeah. Absolutely so I think to prevent it. I think, to get an understanding of whats actually going on. We have to understand terror management theory., So terror management theory starts with the fear of death.. So at some point in the evolutionary development of man or human, I should say we became intelligent enough to be aware of our own mortality. That someday were going to inevitably die and be gone and possibly forgotten. And that realization can be paralyzing if you dont have a psychological mechanism for coping with that.. So when that happened, that necessitated the invention of cultural worldviews, like religions, political ideologies, national identities, cultural worldviews, basically act as death, anxiety buffers by giving us a sense of purpose and meaning in life., Actually they are said to offer paths to immortality.. So a religion. Excuse me, religion offers a path to literal immortality through the concept of an afterlife. And national identities, offer a path to whats called symbolic immortality through feeling, like youre part of this bigger movement. This bigger idea that will outlive the individual.. So what terror management theory says is that if cultural worldviews are how we deal with existential fear, then in times when theres some existential threat looming or were reminded of our death for some other reason, we are going to cling to our cultural worldviews. More. Were going to become more tribal and were going to become more aggressive towards people who have different worldviews.

. So really it explains tribalism. Its interesting, because world is basically, you needed some sort of worldview to emerge to have human civilization, because its. What binds people together under a common idea., But at the same time, if you have people at different parts of the world, different cultural worldviews are going to emerge.. So the thing that unites people within the group is the very same thing that can that divides people into tribes.. So one of the ways to deal with this is to look at your different world views. Look at what you have in common, like, for example, look at the things that the right are complaining about and theyre fearful about that are valid.. Now there are going to be a lot of things that are valid a lot of crazy things that just have nothing to do with reality., But there are going to be some things that are legitimate concerns, things that they care about. And we try to align interests At that point., And if we can do that, we can start to create some sort of unifying worldview and we really need to do that. Consciously.. It doesnt happen by accident., So there will be a second capital attack, something not necessarily have capital, but something thats like that. Right. Were headed there. And if we dont do something very consciously to change that trajectory, I would predict that it will happen for sure.. Speaker 1, So would I. So would I.

Weve been speaking with Bobby Azarian whos, a cognitive neuroscientist blogger for Psychology Today and also writes The Substance Road to Omega., Bobby its always great having you on.. I appreciate it. Speaker 4 Great. David. Can I mention the road to a megaproject? Yes, thats thats, really what me and some colleagues and friends and allies have started to design which sets out a solution for all of this., So everything we talked about problem of tribalism, understanding that a Bayesian reasoning system, a logical reason, reasoning, system to fight misinformation and Conspiracy, theories.

What do you think?

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