The science of Donald Trump's allure


Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump campaigns at the Iowa State Fair on the weekend in Des Moines, Iowa.
WIN MCNAMEE/GETTY IMAGES

Psychologist Melanie Tannenbaum has taken a look at the psychology of why presidential hopeful Donald Trump is riding high in the polls, despite making comments that have offended many votersWriting in her blog in a three-part series, she acknowledges that some people will be drawn to blatantly racist, nationalist, sexist statements because they tally with their own beliefs. But, she says, that is not the whole story and that for some people, even though they don't like what Trump is saying, they say they appreciate the fact that he is openly saying it.

She points to the psychological concept of "ambiguity intolerance" that is felt by some people.

...people high in ambiguity intolerance feel so profoundly uncomfortable with the idea of uncertainty, they will often prefer a slightly negative yet certain outcome to a potentially-more-positive, uncertain one. In other words, people may find Donald Trump to be disagreeable, abrasive, or downright unlikeable. But because of his reputation for "telling it like it is" and "being honest to a fault," they also feel certain that they can believe Trump when he says he's telling the truth.

And, Tannenbaum says, there is a good psychological reason why we're more likely to think Trump is actually being "honest" with what he's saying, even in the face of evidence that suggests he is not.

When people say things that are non-normative, unexpected, or non-self-serving, those things are seen as more likely to be true, and outside observers are more likely to think they have a good chance of really knowing the authentic, deep-down, true personality of the person saying them. It doesn't matter what those statements objectively are.

Trump, she says, is benefiting from this phenomenon because, as he is not saying what you'd "expect" a politician to say, many believe they genuinely know what he is actually like.

Tomorrow, Tannenbaum will look at why many people claim to be against the idea of "political correctness". You can find a link to her work here.

  1. http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/psysociety/decoding-trump-mania-part-1/
  2. http://www.scientificamerican.com/author/melanie-tannenbaum/
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