Behavior Economics

Trump as a Mental Contaminate

#ScienceFact: Donald Trump is a mental contaminate!

The Halo Effect

SalvatorMundiTo prove it, we have to turn to one of my first loves in psychology, behavioral economics, and Tversky and Kahneman’s heuristics and biases approach. But, even before them, all the way back in 1920 EL Thorndike realized that military officer evaluations of their soldiers on things like physique, leadership, and intelligence correlated too strongly so that the ratings correlated between the traits, i.e. a high physique rating correlated with a high leadership, intelligence, and all of the other traits. If the officer started with a high rating on the first trait, the others were all scored high, also. And vice versa, if the first rating was low, the others would be, too. And imagine, you thought your work evaluations were fair and impartial!

Thorndike coined a term for this phenomenon right then and there and we still use it today! Give yourself ten useless make believe Interwebz points if you were thinking the halo effect!

The halo effect is a cognitive bias whereby we assume that because people or businesses are good at doing one thing they will be good at doing another thing.

David Shah Wiser Daily, Human Nature #001

Hell, you ain’t even got to be good at nothin’ no more, jus’ sit there lookin’ pretty is all! It is true. People who are considered to be more attractive get nicer things.

oh-your-job-is-to-sit-there-and-look-pretty-well-i-guess-getting-one-out-of-two-right-isnt-bad-32fcdEL Thorndike wasn’t done there, no siree bob! He also coined a term for the opposite effect, although it is not in wide use today. Give yourself fifty points for knowing your psychology, if you guessed the horns effect! (If you have experienced either the halo or horns effect at work or another aspect of your life, leave us a note in the comments!)

Is this click bait, Jack? asks your favorite drunk uncle. Good tasting Christ-flavored God Almighty, son, where in this infernal eternal blog post is Trump going to contaminate me mentally? Mother is glaring and father is looking a bit worried and gives you that helpful-dad speed it up sign by rolling his hand in front of him.

Mental Contamination

These two effects and more come under the heading of mental contamination. It is a thing. A science thing to boot!

Mental contamination is the unconscious or uncontrollable mental processing that results in unwanted judgments, emotions, or behavior

Wilson & Brekke in Heuristics and Biases: The Psychology of Intuitive Judgment

Trigger Warning: The Rapist Rant

Unconscious-mindHere’s the rub, most of what we do and think and feel is done completely outside of our awareness. So, when Brock Turner swims good and don’t drown and shakes the hands of all the other boys not drowning that heat and does all the other cute privileged things that white upper middle class kids do these days and then brutally rapes an unconscious woman behind a dumpster not only with his penis but with other handy objects and not only in her vagina but also in her rectum, he tends to get a pass because of his pasty white skin, his dangley  between his legs, and the dollar signs in his wallet. Prison might could have a severe impact on him, says his judge, but not to all the other darkly skinned, over-sized (at least in the imaginations of the judges and juries) dangley bitted, and impoverished boys. Prison do those boys a world o’ good, ya hear now? But, the judge don’t even know he’s haloing the Brock I’m a motherfucking rapist Turner and hornsing all the minorities and poors! Just like that poor woman wouldn’t a knowed she’d been finger fucked iffn those two Swedish morans hadn’t got it splashed all over the next day’s paper! Fucking do-gooders! She was passed out drunk! Where was these guys’ Swedish roots? What would any good Viking have done but fucked her…

Son, your favorite drunk uncle gently touches your arm and looks worriedly into your eyes, you bes’ get on with it. If even your favorite drunk uncle is disturbed by your rant, then maybe it is better to cut it short.

But that sum bitch makes me so mad! (Another smart snarky blog post, A Steep Price… Postcards from Snarkville by snarkwriter)

I know son, I know, your favorite drunk uncle replies with an amazing amount of empathy partially convincing you that he might have some empathy in there some where. He does me, too. (If you have some choice thoughts about Brock I’m a rapey mcrapeface Turner, leave those in the comments!)

But, you get my point, right? We attribute good things to people and things we like (halo effect) and bad things to those we don’t like (horns effect)… and we don’t even know we are doing it!

So, the main causes of mental contamination:

  1. lacking awareness of your mental processes
  2. lacking control over your mental processes
  3. being mistaken about the influences on your judgments
  4. lacking motivation to correct your biases and other judgment errors

Setting the motherfucker, Brock Turner, aside, boy howdy don’t these all sound like Donald Trump? Lookie hear! Lacking awareness and lacking control are both examples of poor executive functioning. Numero three is down to stupid and uninformed and uninterested. And, four, well four is special because that is Trump at his narcissistic best: he just don’t gotta, now do he?

So, this explains Trumps racist, xenophobic, misogynist fascist rhetoric, but how does he contaminate the rest of us?

Our Heuristical Selves

heuristicsTo answer this question we need to go all the way back some 50,000 or so years ago when we was having all the hunting and gathering. In them old timey days when people knew it was wrong to rape unconscious women, they had to rely on their experiences to know what was safe, right, and good — like not raping unconscious women — and what wasn’t. So, in all its infinite wisdom evolution provided that the peoples who could record and apply their experiences the best, lived and reproduced — although they did it without raping unconscious women — and who couldn’t, didn’t. This meant that certain shortcuts in thinking came into existence and are hardwired to whatever degree our personal genetics and real world experiences will allow in all of us. These shortcuts are known as heuristics — rules of thumb like don’t rape unconscious women — and allow us an efficient and largely correct ways of responding to our environments, although they occasionally let us down — Brock raped that woman, but he wasn’t let down by any heuristic or bias because rape is not an efficient or adaptive response to our environments EVER!

One of these shortcuts is the halo effect.

One way that our mental selves can become contaminated and our heuristical selves be taken advantage of is by someone who is deliberately trying to manipulate us and control our behavior! Trump does this in so many ways:

  • He gives people nicknames and then uses them over and over and over again: Lil’ Marco, Lyin’ Ted, Corrupt Hillary. They become one of the first things we think about when that person comes to mind. You may not be aware of the association, but you will rate that person less favorably. This is the horns effect, but you already knew that, right?
  • These nicknames also manipulate our emotions. Being little, lying, and being corrupt are all bad things. We all dislike bad immoral people, like someone who let’s say rapes an unconscious woman behind a dumpster!
  • He emphasizes his positive traits — not that Trump has any, but he lies — like being rich, successful, popular, intelligent, and even being cheap. He uses short phrases, small words, and memorable images. This is the equivalent of using derogatory nicknames for his opponents. It is the emotional association that is built.
  • Increasing the positive emotions associated with something will result in a reduced perception of risk. People cannot imagine the future very well, but we are very aware of the present. We assume that whatever is happening now will continue on in the future. Lucky for that poor woman who was brutally raped by Brock Turner, this is not the case. So, we tend to mitigate future risk associated with something that feels good now.

Donald Trump’s only real chance of winning is if independent voters are duped into allaying their concerns about any risk a Trump presidency might pose. Trump might be a great president, but more than likely won’t be. People might be convinced to take a risk on a Trump presidency being great if they only focus on the here and now of feeling good at hearing what a success he is and how big his hands are and how rich he is and how smart he is and how well he’ll do all of the presidenting.

So, now we have Obama making it more likely that people will take a risk on a Trump presidency, and Trump trying to dupe us into it by only using ridiculously simple adjectives to describe himself. (If you think Trump has cheapened or coarsened our society, let me know how in the comments!)

Regretfully, an earlier version of this post contained the erroneous claim: Just like that poor woman wouldn’t a knowed she’d been sodomized with a rusty splintery pine needley branch iffn those two Swedish morans hadn’t got it splashed all over the next day’s paper! It has since been corrected to the more accurate: Just like that poor woman wouldn’t a knowed she’d been finger fucked iffn those two Swedish morans hadn’t got it splashed all over the next day’s paper! 

We apologize for any problem this error may have caused.



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