Close your eyes, dear reader, and imagine as clearly as you can the following scene:
Donald Trump is seated before a classy dinner table in a fantastic small room with golden accents and highlights. On the table is an elegant dinner service. It is beautiful. On the beautiful dinner plate sits one lone yoooge white marshmallow.
There is a man… a great man… the absolute best… you’d love him, dear reader, absolutely love him, I guarantee. This great man leans down and tells Donald that he must leave the room for a few short minutes. And when he returns, he’ll give Donald a second marshmallow, but only if Donald hasn’t eaten the first one already. Won’t that be fantastic? Donald could have two yoooge beautiful white marshmallows… the best marshmallows. But, if Donald wants to eat the marshmallow real real bad, he can ring a bell, the man can return, and Donald can have this yoooge beautiful best marshmallow right away!
Now, dear reader, what do you think Donald Trump does? Does he…
(a) … wait for this great man, the absolute best man in the world, to return and get two yooge beautiful white marshmallows?
(b)… ring the bell to summon this fantastic man back to the room so he can eat the one classy white marshmallow immediately?
(c)… tell the man that he will negotiate the best deal for marshmallows and have better marshmallows than this one and have so many marshmallows, he won’t believe it. Because he is the best negotiator and has best words and the best brain?
(d)… eat the marshmallow before the man leaves, claim that he never had any marshmallows at all ever, and that the man owes him two more marshmallows, and he’ll sue him if he does give him all the marshmallows he wants?
Walter Mischel and the Infamous Marshmallow Test
This is the scenario that beloved psychologist Walter Mischel devised back in the 1960’s to evaluate the effects the ability to delay gratification has on later life success. It is widely known as the Marshmallow Test. Mischel rounded up a bunch of preschoolers and tortured them with marshmallows, pretzels, mints, and all kinds of yummy tempting treats.
Not only did Mischel then accurately record whether the child waited for up to 20 minutes or ate the treat, he found them all years later! They couldn’t hide from this maniac no matter how hard they tried!
Again, with the marshmallow, Walter? How many times do I have to tell you, I hate marshmallows? Leave me alone already.
But, Walter wouldn’t do it. And, he discovered that the kids who could delay gratification by waiting for up to 20 minutes to get their two marshmallows, generally were doing better in their lives. Causing Walter to (a) conclude that there is a definite correlation between the quality of life of the child and their ability to tolerate temptation and (b) to milk this marshmallow thing for all it’s worth! Christ, Walter, you’re 86 years old, can you drop this marshmallow thing already?
Executive functions consist of several mental skills that help the brain organize and act on information. These skills enable people to plan, organize, remember things, prioritize, pay attention and get started on tasks. They also help people use information and experiences from the past to solve current problems.
Executive functioning helps with two aspects of behavior, self-regulation and organization. Self-regulation begins with being able to not mess your pants or wet the bed, which most adults no longer have trouble with. But, as we get older, self-regulation helps us adapt to our environment. Adapting is an important aspect of survival, right? Organization concerns how we gather, structure, and interpret information. In the information-age, we might could benefit from having skills here, don’t ya think?
One thing that Donald Trump put on display this week:
- taking up the Clinton is an enabler of her husband’s affairs and abusing the women he abused,
- threatening to dismiss Speaker Ryan as the head of the Republican convention,
- claiming that we could pay less money for our debt
His week suggests that he might could have some self-regulation issues. He seems to pretty much regularly metaphorically mess his pants by getting diarrhea of the mouth. Let’s take a closer look at what regulation entails:
- poor impulse control: You might have poor impulse control if you blurt INAPPROPRIATE REMARKS AT INAPPROPRIATE TIMES! People with poor impulse control just say or do whatever they’re thinking. These people appear to have poor judgment. Believe me, people, the worst judgment. Sound like anyone we know?
- poor emotional control: You might have poor emotional control if you spend your late nights sending vitriolic tweets and texts and stuff. Emotional overreaction is the classiest symptom of poor executive functioning and poor emotional control. It’s just beautiful… you’re going to love it, believe me. Two other signs: a tendency to slowly recover from overreacting, i.e. holding a grudge; and, something that our mutual friend doesn’t seem to have a problem with, not realizing that you should have an emotional reaction, so you under react.
We can now begin to understand Trump a little bit better: He just can’t control himself. He may not wet the bed any more, he may not poop his pants as often any more, but he probably is a premature ejaculater whether it is in the sexy sex department or in the oratory and tweeting departments. He acts rashly, he is hyper-focused on how people react to him, and he has trouble maintaining an emotional equilibrium. He reacts badly to imagined criticism and probably doesn’t tolerate frustration easily.
Anyone still wondering why he would publicly talk about his infant daughter’s adult breasts or wanting to “date” his adult daughter? He might be fun at parties, but not if the party includes launching nuclear missiles.
Donald Trump seems to have issues with organization, too. Remember when Ted “Basketball Ring” Cruz was stealing all his delegates by out hustling and out organizing him at state conventions? Why do you think that was? Could it be poor organizational skills by the head of the campaign?
- flexible thinking: Should women who get abortions be punished? How big is your penis? Why do you call women fat pigs? Remember those incidents? If you aren’t mentally flexible you end up saying stupid things because you can’t cope. All of them, Katie! Oh, that wasn’t Trump…
- working memory: I get the impression that Trump actually doesn’t work too much. At least, not in the way I think of working. I don’t remember seeing him banging out contracts or developing an intricate set of negotiating plans, strategies, tactics, and options. But, this ain’t what we mean by working memory. Working memory allows us to process the information we encounter by assembling it and assigning it meaning. If you have trouble with working memory — and I don’t think Trump does — you will have difficulty with multi-step directions because you can’t remember them long enough to encode them into memory.
- self-monitoring: She [Hillary Clinton] was an unbelievably nasty, mean enabler, and what she did to a lot of those women is disgraceful. I am not ready to support Speaker Ryan’s agenda. People said I want to go and buy debt and default on debt, and I mean, these people are crazy. This is the United States government. First of all, you never have to default because you print the money, I hate to tell you, OK? And this was Trump trying to be more presidential! We all expect him, especially Melania, to be more presidential any day now. We measure our candidates — or at least some of us do — by how presidential they are. If you don’t understand how you measure up to expectations, you probably have some self-monitoring issues. The problem with not being able to measure yourself using some type of external gauge is that you have trouble working towards goals.
- planning & prioritizing: We’re back to the delegates, again, but also, on to ground game, and having a proper campaign staff! Why hasn’t Trump done any of the basics that a campaign should be doing? Why is he letting Ted “Basketball Ring” Cruz walk away with a second ballot victory uncontested? Why doesn’t he have a better ground game, so he ends up losing caucuses? Why doesn’t he have a private polling firm under contract? Why is he always constantly playing catch up? Even if he started out thinking he wouldn’t win, it’s been obvious for months that he would, so why hasn’t he started figuring out national politics and national presidential campaigning? People with poor planning and prioritizing skills have difficulty distinguishing a vital step or task and unimportant ones. They get started on a project without having given any thought to what it will take to complete it… sound familiar?
- task initiation: I don’t see much evidence of Trump being a procrastinator. He’s screwed up a lot of his campaign, but it doesn’t seem to be because he’s shy about getting started. Trump doesn’t seem like he’s frozen and simply unable to begin.
- focus & attention: Trump definitely seems to get stuck on his own thoughts or distracted by something in his environment, particularly questions and comments by others. He certainly seems to repeat himself and go wandering down meandering verbal paths.
Is He or Isn’t He?
How does Trump rate in terms of executive functioning? Does he have the chops to be president? He started with a boat load of money and has ridden that wave through bankruptcies and divorces and primarily seems to trade on his name, reputation, and personality. None of his accomplishments ever seem to have amounted to much. In fact, I bet few people can even name his accomplishments.
I imagine that he runs his businesses and life like he’s been running his campaign: reacting and guessing and being very very impulsive. When in doubt get angry and shout! So far, it’s been working pretty well for him, but then again, the 16 he started against weren’t exactly the cream of the crop, were they? In fact, it looks like the GOP is having a cream crisis! He hasn’t been up against any stiff competition or any close scrutiny… until now. Look at the crap that Obama, Bill Clinton, and Hillary Clinton have had to put up with while they were in office. Can Trump really handle the scrutiny, investigations, and pressure? Can he really be the chief executive of an organization as vast the federal bureaucracy? Will the Trump presidency be like Andrew Jackson, Ulysses S. Grant, and Warren G. Harding all rolled into one bumbling corrupt series of inept crises?
Categories: Executive Functioning