ICYMI here is a roundup of all the behavioral science behind the movement that elected Donald Trump president…

Nostalgia bias: humans have an innate bias of remembering the past as having been better than it truly was. There are several neuroscience studies that link the same parts of the brain that remember the past with those used to imagine the future. So evoking a rosier past may also promise a better future. The campaign slogan “Make America Great Again” tries to do just that.

(see below from brain research comparing remembering and future imagining in the brain)

Future Remembering in the brain

Concreteness effect: using specific, vivid, easy-to-picture language is more readily grasped, understood and even believed than abstractions (“I will build a wall”). Neuroscientists have been discovering that the brain processes concrete language differently than abstract words, and that more of the brain is actively involved (“An fmri study of concreteness effects in spoken word” by Roxbury et al).

Illusory truth effect: (also called the “truth effect”) wherein mere repetition of words or phrases make them not only more familiar to listeners, but tends to make them more credible (regardless of their accuracy). It’s hypothesized that this is a latent aspect of evolution wherein anything new represents a possible threat, while the familiar does not. The illusory truth effect is a subset of a phenomenon behavioral scientists call “fluency” (how easily you can recall or bring something to mind). Repetition increases fluency which in turn can increase believability. Example: Trump’s repetition of key phrases (“I’m a _______ (great negotiator, winner)”, “Lyin’ Ted”, “Little Marco”, “Crooked Hillary”).

Disgust: social science tests have revealed repeatedly that the notion of disgust plays far more strongly among conservatives than liberals. Trump often uses the word to describe opponents or their actions. The social science findings claim conservatives are moved more by fear, loyalty, authority, and purity. In a poll of more than 187 thousand people between 2007 and 2014 by, those self-identifying as “very liberal” held the values of “fairness” and “care” most morally relevant, but didn’t care much about “loyalty,” “authority,” or “purity.” But those self-identifying as very conservative valued “loyalty” and purity” as most morally relevant. Second, several pieces of research found that disgust moves conservatives more than liberals (“Conservatives are more easily disgusted” by Inbar, Pizzarro, and Bloom; “Disgust Sensitivity and the Neurophysiology of Left- Right Political Orientations” by Smith, Oxley, Hibbing). This goes hand-in-hand with the findings that conservatives treasure purity. 

Third, some neuroscientists say fear has a bigger impact on the right. Conservatives, they claim, have a larger right amygdala, the emotional fight-or-flight center that governs fear) versus liberals having more grey matter in the anterior cingulate cortex (which handles uncertainty and conflict). One experiment (“Political Attitudes Vary with Physiological Traits” by Oxley et al) found sensitivity to threatening images and loud noises correlated more with conservatives.

Below, a brain scan study showing a much bigger effect of disgusting images on conservatives than liberals.

Cultivation theory: first put forward by the social scientist George Gerbner, this theory posits that as we are exposed to something more an more via pop culture (TV, news, movies), we exaggerate its prevalence. Gerbner wrote in his Television’s Mean World paper: “those who watch more television tend to express a heightened sense of living in a mean world of danger and mistrust· and alienation and gloom.” Gerbner found that the more viewers were exposed to violence on TV, the more they overestimated the crime rate (something Americans do every year) . Meanwhile, Tivo reports that the favorite TV shows among Trump supporters include the crime pathologist “Rosewood” and the “NCIS” crime franchise. So the more crime and violence someone is exposed to, goes the theory, the more they exaggerate the actual crime situation.

Those steeped in reality TV the past 15 years will, if cultivation theory bears out, believe the whole world operates like a reality TV competition (a very Mean World), with false alliances, back-biting, deception and one goal– win at any cost. Trump’s followers may believe such a Mean World requires a strong authority figure (the Boss) to lead them to winning.

Authoritarian & Hierarchical: Some research claims to show the most accurate predictor of whether a voter will support Trump is how highly they self-score on an authoritarian test. This fits with the studies by Daniel Kahan at the Yale Cultural Cognition Project . Kahan has adapted the Mary Douglas “Grid-Group” models of audience segmentation, and maps people by their worldviews, particularly what each kind of person views as risky (particularly risky to their own identity). The vertical axis runs from hierarchical to egalitarian, while the horizontal axis runs from individualistic to communitarian. So those up in the hierarchical-individualistic quadrant see the world diametrically opposed from their diagonal quadrant of egalitarian-communitarian.

(above image from Jennifer Briselli and Yale Cultural Cognition Project)

Note: Hierarchical-individualists see no risk in guns or climate change, but they do in gay marriage. A hierarchical-individualist believes in law and order, a strong boss, free markets and does not like regulation. Sound familiar?

Written by Christopher Graves Oglivy & Mathers Public relations via Linkedin

Compiled and edited by: Jimmy Adesanya (Facebook & LinkedIn)

Brand Story:

Christopher Graves is Currently Global Chairman of Ogilvy Public Relations

Rockefeller Foundation Bellagio Resident honoree.

Prior to Ogilvy, 23 years of media experience on 3 continents in 3 media (TV, internet, print). 18 years with Dow Jones/WSJ & CNBC

Life Member: Council on Foreign Relations

WPP Atticus Grand Prix Award (2012) and Atticus Award 2014 and 2008.

Contributing author of three McKinsey books on nation branding (“Korea 2020” and “Reimagining Japan” and “Reimagining India”).

Chairman, Critical Issues Forum and board of directors, Council of Public Relations Firms.

Trustee, Institute for Public Relations.

Formerly managing director of “Far Eastern Economic Review” magazine (magazine of the year in Asia 2004, 2002); Vice President (head of news and programming) for 24-hr. television networks (CNBC Europe and CNBC Asia).

Formerly head of business development for web and interactive for Dow Jones Consumer Electronic Publishing ( (Europe and Asia). Executive Producer at Wall Street Journal Television (“The Wall Street Journal Report”). Prior to that, produced news programs for: Buena Vista Disney (“Today’s Business” on CBS stations) 1986-87; CNN (“Money Line”) 1985-86; and ESPN (“Business Times” 1983-1985).

Specialties: Branding, crisis management, content creation and media strategy, CEO media coaching, applied behavioral economics and basic neuroscience principles to communications.

©thebrandradio 2016. All rights reserved.

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