Category Archives: Human behavior

Why millions believe Trump’s idiotic tweeter-twaddle


As anyone who pays attentions to the utterances, tweeted and otherwise, of our President-elect, Donald Trump is, at best, the source of profoundly absurd declarations of nonsense, gleaned from sources that regularly write about a cabal of lizard people ruling the world, rampant voter fraud, a secret fluoride mind control program, and other blatant twaddle.

While the rational among us would at first glance reject such absurdities, they gain traction, eventually forming part of the core belief systems of millions.

The question, then, is why?

A perceptive analysis by Lisa Fazio Assistant Professor of Psychology, Vanderbilt University, writing in the open source [Creative Commons] academic journal The Conversation, offers some key insights:

In the weeks since the U.S. election, concerns have been raised about the prominence and popularity of false news stories spread on platforms such as Facebook. A BuzzFeed analysis found that the top 20 false election stories generated more shares, likes, reactions and comments than the top 20 election stories from major news organizations in the months immediately preceding the election. For example, the fake article “Pope Francis Shocks World, Endorses Donald Trump for President, Releases Statement” was engaged with 960,000 times in the three months prior to the election.

Facebook has discounted the analysis, saying that these top stories are only a tiny fraction of the content people are exposed to on the site. In fact, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has said, “Personally I think the idea that fake news on Facebook, which is a very small amount of the content, influenced the election in any way – I think is a pretty crazy idea.” However, psychological science suggests that exposure to false news would have an impact on people’s opinions and beliefs. It may not have changed the outcome of the election, but false news stories almost definitely affected people’s opinions of the candidates.

Psychological research, including my own, shows that repeated exposure to false information can change people’s beliefs that is it true. This phenomenon is called the “illusory truth effect.”

This effect happens to us all – including people who know the truth. Our research suggests that even people who knew Pope Francis made no presidential endorsement would be susceptible to believing a “Pope endorses Trump” headline when they had seen it multiple times.

Repetition leads to belief

People think that statements they have heard twice are more true than those they have encountered only once. That is, simply repeating false information makes it seem more true.

In a typical study, participants read a series of true statements (“French horn players get cash bonuses to stay in the U.S. Army”) and false ones (“Zachary Taylor was the first president to die in office”) and rate how interesting they find each sentence. Then, they are presented with a number of statements and asked to rate how true each one is. This second round includes both the statements from the first round and entirely new statements, both true and false. The outcome: Participants reliably rate the repeated statements as being more true than the new statements.

In a recent study, I and other researchers found that this effect is not limited to obscure or unknown statements, like those about French horn players and Zachary Taylor. Repetition can also bolster belief in statements that contradict participants’ prior knowledge.

For example, even among people who can identify the skirt that Scottish men wear as a kilt, the statement “A sari is the skirt that Scottish men wear” is rated as more true when it is read twice versus only once. On a six-point scale, the participants’ truth ratings increased by half a point when the known falsehoods were repeated. The statements were still rated as false, but participants were much less certain, rating the statements as “possibly false” rather than closer to “probably false.”

This means that having relevant prior knowledge does not protect people from the illusory truth effect. Repeated information feels more true, even if it goes against what you already know.

Even debunking could make things worse

Facebook is looking at ways to combat fake news on the site, but some of the proposed solutions are unlikely to fix the problem. According to a Facebook post by Zuckerberg, the site is considering labeling stories that have been flagged as false with a warning message. While this is a commonsense suggestion, and may help to reduce the sharing of false stories, psychological research suggests that it will do little to prevent people from believing that the articles are true.

People tend to remember false information, but forget that it was labeled as false. A 2011 study gave participants statements from sources described as either “reliable” or “unreliable.” Two weeks later, the participants were asked to rate the truth of several statements – the reliable and unreliable statements from before, and new statements as well. They tended to rate the repeated statements as more true, even if they were originally labeled as unreliable.

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Is granny sparking up? More seniors tokin’ away


The Boomers are bongin’.

Not all, but a growing segment of older Americans are discovering the pleasures of the herb, according to a new study from New York University:

The recent legalization of recreational marijuana (cannabis) use in California, Colorado, and Washington reflect the sweeping changes in the attitudes and perceptions towards marijuana use in the United States. Eight states have voted in favor of legal recreational marijuana and 26 states in total allow medicinal marijuana.

There is a common misperception that widespread marijuana use is limited to younger generations. However, the Baby Boomer generation has reported higher rates of substance use than any preceding generation.

“Given the unprecedented aging of the U.S. population, we are facing a never before seen cohort of older adults who use recreational drugs,” says Benjamin Han, MD, MPH, a geriatrician and health services researcher at the Center for Drug Use and HIV Research (CDUHR) and in the Division of Geriatric Medicine and Palliative Care at NYU Langone Medical Center (NYULMC).

“With the increased availability of legalized marijuana, there is an urgent need to understand the prevalence of its use and also its effects among older generations,” continued Dr. Han. “The paucity of knowledge in this area constrains the care for a changing demographic of older adults with higher rates of substance use.”

To address this, Dr. Han and his team led a study, “Demographic Trends among Older Cannabis Users in the United States, 2006-2013” [$38 to read]. Published in Addiction, the study sought to determine the trends in the prevalence and patterns of cannabis use, attitudes towards cannabis use, and determine correlates of use among adults over the age of 50.

The researchers evaluated responses from 47,140 adults aged 50 and older in the United States through a secondary analysis of the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) from 2006 to 2013. The NSDUH provides national data on the use of tobacco, alcohol, illicit drugs and mental health in the United States.

The authors found a 71% increase in marijuana use among adults aged 50 and older between 2006 and 2013. Adults ages 65 and older had a significantly lower prevalence of marijuana use compared to those ages 50-64, but prevalence of use increased two and a half times over eight years. Overall, prevalence was higher among men than women through all years.

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Trump’s tweet addiction linked to narcissism


While this new academic study doesn’t mention Trump by name, the behaviors described fit no one better.

From the University of Georgia [emphases added]:

A new statistical review of 62 studies with over 13,000 individuals found that narcissism has a modest but reliable positive relationship with a range of social media behaviors. The largest effects were with the number of friends/followers narcissists had and frequency of status updates, followed by selfie postings, according to University of Georgia psychology researchers.

The two strains of narcissistic behavior — grandiose narcissism and vulnerable narcissism — showed different relationships to social media use. Grandiose narcissism, the more extroverted, callous form, positively related to time spent on social media, the frequency of updates, number of friends/followers, and the frequency of posting selfies. Vulnerable narcissism, the more insecure form, did not show any relationship to social media, but there was relatively little research on this form of narcissism.

“The stories you have heard about grandiose narcissism on social media are probably true,” said the study’s senior author, Keith Campbell, a professor of psychology in the UGA Franklin College of Arts and Sciences.

Campbell, co-author of the best-selling “The Narcissism Epidemic,” notes that “when you engage with social media, you will be engaging with more narcissism than might really exist in the world. This might distort your view of the world as being more narcissistic than it is.”

“It is important to remember that these are only correlations, however,” said the study’s lead author, Jessica McCain, a graduate student in the Behavioral and Brain Sciences Program in the UGA Franklin College of Arts and Sciences department of psychology. “This is not evidence that social media causes narcissism or vice versa. Theoretically, we suspect that individuals with pre-existing narcissism are drawn to social media, but the present evidence only establishes that the two are related.”

“Networks on social media aren’t designed by people in Silicon Valley,” Campbell said. “They are built one link at a time by users. And narcissists seem to be central to this build-out.”

The study, “Narcissism and Social Media Use: A Meta-Analytic Review,” was published in the early online edition of Psychology of Popular Media Culture and is available here [$11.95 to download].

The diagnostic criteria for grandiose narcissism

So what is grandiose narcissism?

Here are the diagnostic criteria from the fourth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the standard reference for psychiatrists and other mental health professionals. We opted for it rather than the subsequent fifth edition, which uses a lot more words to say the same things:

A pervasive pattern of grandiosity (in fantasy or behavior), need for admiration, and lack of empathy, beginning by early adulthood and present in a variety of contexts, as indicated by five (or more) of the following:

1. Has a grandiose sense of self-importance (e.g., exaggerates achievements and talents, expects to be recognized as superior without commensurate achievements).
2. Is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love.
3. Believes that he or she is “special” and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people (or institutions).
4. Requires excessive admiration.
5. Has a sense of entitlement, i.e., unreasonable expectations of especially favorable treatment or automatic compliance with his or her expectations.
6. Is interpersonally exploitative, i.e., takes advantage of others to achieve his or her own ends.
7. Lacks empathy: is unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others.
8. Is often envious of others or believes that others are envious of him or her.
9. Shows arrogant, haughty behaviors or attitudes.

And something to help you with the diagnosis

From a fascinating collection of Trumpisms assembled by author Eliot Weinberger for the London Review of Books:

  • ‘My entire life, I’ve watched politicians bragging about how poor they are, how they came from nothing, how poor their parents and grandparents were. And I said to myself, if they can stay so poor for so many generations, maybe this isn’t the kind of person we want to be electing to higher office. How smart can they be? They’re morons.’
  • ‘The beauty of me is that I’m very rich.’
  • ‘I fully think apologising’s a great thing – but you have to be wrong. I will absolutely apologise sometime in the hopefully distant future if I am ever wrong.’
  • ‘I love women. They’ve come into my life. They’ve gone out of my life. Even those who have exited somewhat ungracefully still have a place in my heart. I only have one regret in the women department – that I never had the opportunity to court Lady Diana Spencer.’
  • [On daughter Ivanka]: ‘She does have a very nice figure. I’ve said if Ivanka weren’t my daughter, perhaps I’d be dating her.’ ‘Yeah, she’s really something, and what a beauty, that one. If I weren’t happily married and, ya know, her father…’
  • ‘My fingers are long and beautiful, as, it has been well documented, are various other parts of my body.’
  • ‘My IQ is one of the highest – and you all know it! Please don’t feel so stupid or insecure; it’s not your fault.’
  • ‘We won with poorly educated. I love the poorly educated.’
  • ‘With nuclear, the power, the devastation is very important to me.’
  • ‘Love him or hate him, Donald Trump is a man who is certain about what he wants and sets out to get it, no holds barred. Women find his power almost as much of a turn-on as his money.’
  • ‘When the students poured into Tiananmen Square, the Chinese government almost blew it. Then they were vicious, they were horrible, but they put it down with strength. That shows you the power of strength.’
  • [When confronted by the father of a Muslim U.S. army captain killed in Afghanistan angry over Trump;’s virulent anti-Muslim rhetoricm, who asked the Donald what sacrifices he had made for his country] ‘I think I’ve made a lot of sacrifices. I work very, very hard. I’ve created thousands and thousands of jobs, tens of thousands of jobs, built great structures. I’ve had tremendous success. I think I’ve done a lot.’

Psilocybin cuts cancer patient anxiety, depression


Psilocybin, a mind-altering chemical found in “magic mushrooms,” once again proves the most powerful treatment yet for anxiety and depression, this time in cancer patients.

Two parallel studies have demonstrated remarkable effects from the drug, one which also also been shown in other studies to be the most potent pharmacological treatment ever found for alleviating major depression [here, here and here], social isolation, and spousal abuse, as well as in reducing tobacco smoking.

Gee, guess those ‘shrooms really are magic.

We include reports on both of the latest studies, first from the New York University Langone Medical Center:

When combined with psychological counseling, a single dose of a mind-altering compound contained in psychedelic mushrooms significantly lessens mental anguish in distressed cancer patients for months at a time, according to results of a clinical trial led by researchers at NYU Langone Medical Center.

Published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology [access free for the article] online December 1, the study showed that one-time treatment with the hallucinogenic drug psilocybin—whose use required federal waivers because it is a banned substance—quickly brought relief from distress that then lasted for more than 6 months in 80 percent of the 29 study subjects monitored, based on clinical evaluation scores for anxiety and depression.

The NYU Langone-led study was published side by side with a similar study from Johns Hopkins University. Study results were also endorsed in 11 accompanying editorials from leading experts in psychiatry, addiction, and palliative care.

“Our results represent the strongest evidence to date of a clinical benefit from psilocybin therapy, with the potential to transform care for patients with cancer-related psychological distress,” says study lead investigator Stephen Ross, MD, director of substance abuse services in the Department of Psychiatry at NYU Langone.

“If larger clinical trials prove successful, then we could ultimately have available a safe, effective, and inexpensive medication—dispensed under strict control—to alleviate the distress that increases suicide rates among cancer patients,” says Ross, also an associate professor of psychiatry at NYU School of Medicine.

Study co-investigator Jeffrey Guss, MD, a clinical assistant professor of psychiatry at NYU Langone, notes that psilocybin has been studied for decades and has an established safety profile. Study participants, he says, experienced no serious negative effects, such as hospitalization or more serious mental health conditions.

Although the neurological benefits of psilocybin are not completely understood, it has been proven to activate parts of the brain also impacted by the signaling chemical serotonin, which is known to control mood and anxiety. Serotonin imbalances have also been linked to depression.

For the study, half of the participants were randomly assigned to receive a 0.3 milligrams per kilogram dose of psilocybin while the rest received a vitamin placebo of 250 milligrams of niacin, known to produce a “rush” that mimics a hallucinogenic drug experience.

Approximately halfway through the study’s monitoring period (after seven weeks), all participants switched treatments. Those who initially received psilocybin took a single dose of placebo, and those who first took niacin, then received psilocybin. Neither patients nor researchers knew who had first received psilocybin or placebo. Guss says, “The randomization, placebo control, and double-blind procedures maximized the validity of the study results.”

One of the key findings was that improvements in clinical evaluation scores for anxiety and depression lasted for the remainder of the study’s extended monitoring period—specifically, eight months for those who took psilocybin first.

Much, much more after the jump: Continue reading

Headline of the day: Pussygrabber psychosis


Sound like anyone you know?

From the Thomson Reuters Foundation:

Playboys and misogynists more likely to have mental health problems – study

  • The research synthesized results of more than 70 U.S.-based studies involving more than 19,000 men over 11 years
  • Men who behave like promiscuous playboys or feel powerful over women are more likely to have mental health problems than men with less sexist attitudes, according to a study released on Monday
  • The analysis found links between sexist behavior and mental health issues such as depression and substance abuse, said the study which appeared in the Journal of Counseling Psychology, published by the American Psychological Association

While Hillary frittered, The Donald Twittered


And therein might lie the secret of his success.

Or so writes Shontavia Johnson, Professor of Intellectual Property Law at Drake University in The Conversation, an open source academic journal:

Donald Trump’s presidential election victory has been described as stunning, shocking and having elicited a “primal scream” from the media. The president-elect resonated enough with more than 59 million Americans that they pulled the lever for him in the voting booth and propelled him to a win.

Trump connected with his supporters both in person and on social media, particularly via Twitter. He was back tweeting mere hours after delivering his victory speech.

Trump’s affinity for Twitter is well-documented. One political operative characterized the candidate’s presence on the social networking site as “a continuous Trump rally that happens on Twitter at all hours.” His perceived dexterity led some to declare him the best on social media and winner of the social media war.

But how much influence did Twitter have during the 2016 presidential election? As a law professor who researches the internet’s impact on the tangible world, I believe the answer to this question could, in some ways, transform the way political candidates manage their campaigns for years to come.

Politics in the palm of your hand

With more than 300 million active users in the first three-quarters of 2016, Twitter allows people to interact with droves of friends and followers in 140 characters or less. While Americans tend to avoid discussions about politics offline, social media environments like Twitter make it nearly impossible to avoid political interactions on the internet. Though research shows that few Clinton or Trump supporters have close friends in the opposing camp, social media extends these connections significantly. With Twitter in particular, users are statistically more likely to follow people they do not know personally than with Facebook, where users often connect to those with whom they have some personal connection.

This is particularly powerful when you consider the impact social media has on political opinions. Long hours of exposure to political discourse can enhance participation in politics, and communication with others galvanizes political activity around common concerns. One in five people report changing their views on a political or social issue because of something they read on social media, and nearly the same amount say they changed their views about a specific candidate based on what they read there.

Trump’s uncensored tweets persuaded

Trump was remarkably effective at harnessing this type of social media power to influence opinions. His campaign successfully crowdsourced a message of anger and fear by leveraging the knowledge, contacts and skills of his followers to disseminate his tweets widely. For example, Trump would receive nearly double the number of Twitter mentions as Hillary Clinton each day, even though (or maybe because) his messages were much more negative. He also boasted about 40 percent more Twitter followers than his democratic rival.

Trump developed a rapport with his followers by maintaining his own Twitter account throughout much of his campaign. Clinton primarily used a media team – and it showed. Experts have pointed out that because Trump’s tweets largely sounded like they came directly from him – seeming off-the-cuff and unvetted by media pros – they were quite persuasive for his supporters.

This type of relationship development proved to be critical, as fans and followers joined Trump’s movement and developed into large voting blocs. Scott Adams, who created the “Dilbert” comic strip, spent much of the election season writing about Trump as a master of persuasion, particularly through his strong use of fear.

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It’s not what he said: It’s how Trump said it


While Donald Trump is the first president not to have served in either elected office or the military, he’s the second television star to head to the White House, and therein may the secret of his candidacy.

What Trump is good at is delivering lines with conviction, and like his predecessor, Ronald Reagan — like it or not — he’s a great communicator,

Consider this from the University of British Columbia:

Style, not substance, accounts for Donald Trump’s U.S. Republican presidential nomination, according to a psychological analysis from the University of British Columbia.

Psychology researchers at the university compared Trump’s speech style and Twitter usage to that of the other top nine Republican contenders. The real-estate mogul and reality star consistently ranked highest in ratings of grandiosity, “I”-statements, informal language, vocal pitch variation, and use of Twitter.

“Trump’s outrageous statements over the course of the campaign led many political pundits to underestimate his chances of success,” said supervising author Delroy L. Paulhus, a personality psychology researcher and professor at UBC. “Contrary to what might be expected, grandiosity, simplistic language and rampant Twitter activity were statistical predictors of success in the Republican primaries. Although Trump’s bombastic communication style was shocking—even detestable to many viewers—our research suggests that this style helped him win the Republican nomination.”

Speech segments from Trump, Ted Cruz, John Kasich, Ben Carson, Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, Rick Perry, Lindsey Graham and Mike Huckabee were transcribed and analyzed using a computerized text analysis software. The transcriptions were also coded for grandiosity by trained raters, after all personal information and references to the candidate’s party were removed. The researchers also conducted an acoustical analysis of the speeches, to determine pitch variability, which tends to promote an image of energy and dynamism. Finally, the researchers examined each candidate’s Tweet count in the three months before they announced their candidacy.

“Even in everyday life, the difficulty of fact-checking everything people tell us forces us to rely on how they say it —and we’ve shown that this holds true even in political elections,” said Paulhus. “This phenomenon not only helps explain Donald Trump’s political rise, but how questionable political leaders might gain power—even in democracies.”

“Explaining Trump via Communication Style: Grandiosity, Informality, and Dynamism” [ it’s not online yet, but will cost you $35.95 to read when it is] appears today in Personality and Individual Differences.  Co-authors are Sara Ahmadian and Sara Azarshahi.

We would argue that there’s a second factor, reflected in this Reuters/Ipsos Poll graphic [and why have media graphic artists abandoned primary colors for oft-illegible pale pastels —even beefing up contrast and darkening fails to render them easily graspable. . .click on it to enlarge] :

blog-poll