Robert D. Mather, Ph.D.

TheConservativeSocialPsychologist.com Blog
EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW with Meredith Dake-O'Connor, Journalist

Meredith Dake-O'Connor is a freelance multimedia journalist who has held editorial roles at Breitbart News (Associate Editor) and CQ Roll Call (Multimedia Editor). She has published in PJ Media, Roll Call, and The Federalist. I had the opportunity to interview her about journalism and politics. We discussed Andrew Breitbart, the state of journalism, Big Tech censorship, Meghan McCain and other topics. It is a long interview and well worth the read! Here is the link to a PDF of our discussion.

Review of "Militant Normals"


When I first encountered the work of Kurt Schlichter, I was shocked. It was on the Townhall VIP broadcasts, which are not for the faint of heart. He was right about what he said, but it just didn’t seem like a political commentator was supposed to say it like that. Then I realized that he talked (and wrote) like how my friends and I would talk about politics at a bar or on the porch late at night. Then it hit me—he wasn’t like the other political commentators; he was like me and the people that I know. He was normal.


After reading his articles, one of his books, listening to his two different podcast venues, and watching more of his Townhall VIP sessions, I found him to be very much as he describes himself—the conservative id. That metaphor, of course, speaks to me as a psychology professor.


In Schlichter’s 2018 book “Militant Normals: How Regular Americans Are Rebelling Against the Elite to Reclaim Our Democracy” he captures the fundamental truth of why Donald Trump is our President. It is in the elegant distinction of Normal versus Elite.


The Elites are not necessarily rich, but they buy into the culture surrounding elitism. We know better than you, we make the decisions, that sort of thing. The Normals are humble everyday people who go to work, take care of the people they love, and don’t think they are better than anyone else. It sounds simple, right? The Normals work all of their lives for the Elites and the Elites make the world go ‘round, right?

Not at all. The Normals elect the Elites to political power. The Elites work FOR the Normals. The Normals are the customers of the Elites who run mega corporations like Amazon, Google, or any giant enterprise. The Elites work FOR the Normals. But the Elites forget this humility from time to time and the Normals have to remind them by doing something wild like burning down cities and marching on the capitol. Wrong again, some of the braver Normals just wear red MAGA hats and even more of them just vote to drain the swamp. 


It is a clash of Elites versus Normals, not rich versus poor. The Normals are not voting against their own interests, as the Elite like to say. The Normals are smart and very capable of voting for their own interests. The Normals are tired of institutional bureaucratic inertia—or “The Swamp.”


Like Schlichter, Larry O’Connor is another Breitbart protégé. Both men understand what all of us Republicans experienced during the George W. Bush years. Republicans were made laughing stocks by the media. Every session of every scientific meeting I attended for 8 years had a minimum of 20 Bush jokes to even enter the session, most of them enshrined within the PowerPoint itself. George W. Bush stoically did what I and many others thought was right at the time—he remained classy and above the fray, never stooping to the level of the mud-slinging. But the mud-slinging wasn’t just for him. His supporters went to the ideological battlefield every day to face humiliation. He didn’t stand up for us. It was an old model and we didn’t know he could. Look, George W. Bush is one of my two favorite Presidents (Reagan is the other) and you will rarely hear me criticize him. This isn’t even a criticism of Bush’s strategy during the context of that time period, but I am noting that Donald Trump stands up for his supporters.


Bush encountered the new age of the internet, and mud-slinging was at a whole new level. Barack Obama was the media darling and a Democrat, so he was left alone by the media. Donald Trump is a Republican, so he takes shots from the media. I watched an old Saturday Night Live a few months ago with Kirk Douglass hosting in February of 1980. There was a segment where Ronald Reagan was portrayed as a racist. Do you see the pattern? Normals see it and it is not a new phenomenon. Republican Presidents get harassed by the media and Hollywood. What is new is that Republicans are fighting back.


We Republicans haven’t had a true prize fighter in the ring for us since Reagan. Go back and listen to Reagan’s speeches. Listen to the speeches he gave in 1964, 1976, 1980, 1984, 1986, 1988 and you will find it doesn’t matter. He was tough and he fought for us. He fought for California, he fought for the U.S., he fought the media and he fought the Communists. He was hated by the media, by Hollywood and he was a former Democrat, but he produced major conservative wins. Does that sound familiar?


To contrast our choice this year, we are at the climax of a four year tantrum by the Democrats who have yet to acknowledge that President Trump won the votes in the electoral college with the rules that were in place when the campaigns were set—rules that are always there—against someone who thinks Trump stole the election but should have actually been in jail for using a private server to communicate classified information.


When I worked in a maximum security prison, we signed a form. It was the last form they gave us and the only one they didn’t go over with us. I was the only one in my new employee training cohort who read the form. We had just signed 30 forms that were all carefully explained to us. Why are they slipping this one in at the end with no explanation, telling us to just sign it? I bet this is the only one worth reading. It was the one that said if there was a prison riot and I was taken hostage, my employment would be automatically terminated and as policy they would not negotiate for my release. I thought that was good to know, so that I wouldn’t sit around waiting for the warden’s security to get me in that scenario. I figured I had two options: Fight my way out or team up with the prisoners and lead them into battle with the cowards who had turned their backs on me. Hypothetically, anyway. Given the riots and four year tantrum of the Democrats, a vote for many DNC candidates this year is akin to negotiating with a hostage taker. Vote for us and the chaos and trouble will stop, because we are the ones doing it. That’s the Democrat platform this year!


We Normals are tired of liberals being able to exercise free speech, political virtue signaling, and cancel culture in the streets and workplaces and expecting us to stay quiet and maintain “civility.” Free speech works both ways. Activism works both ways. Resistance works both ways.


Colonel Schlichter’s basic premise is that the Normals sit and yield the operations of democracy to the Elite until the Elite lose sight of who they work for. Then the Normals wake up, fight back, and elect a fighter. Then they go back to Normal until the Elite slap them around long enough and they wake up and fight again.


Speaking of slapping conservatives around, the Obama administration spied on the Trump campaign and used the IRS to target conservatives. That’s not President Trump abusing power, those are Democrats.


What about violence? Congressman Steve Scalise was FREAKING SHOT by a man hunting Republicans. In Jacksonville, FL, a man FREAKING DROVE A VAN into a tent of Republican volunteers while hunting Republicans. In Portland, OR, Aaron Danielson was FREAKING SHOT by a man hunting Republicans. Rand Paul was FREAKING ATTACKED by his longtime neighbor with longtime political differences who promptly used the “brush pile made me do it” defense. Then Rand Paul and his wife got mobbed after the RNC. These aren’t attacks on ideals—they are active attacks targeting Republicans for being Republican. This isn’t chaos due to Donald Trump. We have Donald Trump to fight for us against an opponent that has been less than civil. This is intimidation.


Schlichter’s book captures the sentiment that Normals are sick of being slapped around by liberals, reminding me of the end of an old Kenny Rogers song. We Normals listen to Kenny Rogers sometimes.


Coward of the County, by Kenny Rogers

When Tommy turned around they said, “He look! Old Yellow’s leaving”

But you could’ve heard a pin drop when Tommy stopped and locked the door

Twenty years of crawling was bottled up inside him.

He wasn’t holding nothing back, he let ‘em have it all

When Tommy left the bar room, not a Gatlin boy was standing…

I walk away from trouble when I can

Now please don’t think I’m weak, I didn’t turn the other cheek

And Papa, I should hope you understand

Sometimes you gotta fight when you’re a man


Hey Republicans, sometimes you gotta fight when you're a man.

Review of "Talk Radio's America"


In 2019, I listened to an episode of “The Rush Limbaugh Show” on News Radio 1000 KTOK in Oklahoma City. On that episode, Rush recommended reading Brian Rosenwald’s Talk Radio’s America: How an Industry Took Over a Political Party That Took Over the United States. Rush was smitten with Rosenwald’s description of the early years of Rush’s career and the giant legacy he had left for talk radio. Rush is a big fan of Rush, hence the appeal of the book to him. However, I am also a big fan of Rush so I bought the book and read it last year.

 

The book will be of interest to readers who follow conservative talk radio or Republican politics. In addition to beginning with a history of “The Rush Limbaugh Show,” it also covers Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, Mark Levin, Newt Gingrich, Breitbart News, and the repeal of the Fairness Doctrine. The rise of conservative talk radio is set in the context of the creation of Fox News, the Contract with America, and the Clinton administration. It shows how and why the politics of the party shifted further right and led to the Tea Party movement. There is also discussion of President Donald Trump.

 

Basic political strategies such as making talking points and party members available for interviews are chronicled for the arms race of persuasion between Republicans and Democrats. Bill Clinton’s southern respect for talk radio and willingness to guest for hosts of all types proved crucial for him.

 

The author, Rosenwald, does not appear to be a conservative Republican. At the very least, his anti-Trump biases come out in his last few chapters. However, the author made an attempt at being unbiased in covering Trump. How often do we see a journalist do that?


As a compliment to the article, I recommend reading Victor Davis Hanson's article "Limbaugh: A Genius at Radio" (National Review, February 11th, 2020).

View of a Monster: "Bin Laden's Hard Drive"

Osama Bin Laden orchestrated a devastating attack on the United States on September 11th, 2001. A recently released documentary provides psychological insight into the monster. On September 10th, 2020, National Geographic Channel aired “Bin Laden’s Hard Drive.” The documentary used a number of scholarly analysts to examine the contents of the hard drive seized at Bin Laden’s compound during the raid in which a U. S. Navy SEAL Team killed Bin Laden.

 

The analysis revealed a narcissist who demanded perfection in his delivery of his videotaped speeches. Bin Laden was highly paranoid, since the world was trying to find him and kill him for his evil works. He lived with around 20 people on an isolated compound, with satellite TV and web content only brought in through USB drives. They grew their own crops and raised their own livestock.

 

A Muslim woman described him as not representing Muslims or Islam and cited many instances of his flawed interpretations of their scripture. She stated, “that’s not an extremist, that’s a deviant revisionist.” The deviant revision was the foundation of much of the religious propaganda that he used to grow Al Qaeda. A few of his wives helped him to co-author many of his messages and he indoctrinated his grandchildren to become martyrs.

 

Some of the most interesting analysis came from Dr. Reid Maloy, a forensic psychologist who consults with the FBI. One noteworthy observation was that someone was rewarding Bin Laden’s young grandson off camera for the boy’s propaganda speech. Another interesting observation was made by Peter Bergen, a journalist and CNN National Security Analyst who had previously interviewed Bin Laden. Bergen noted that Bin Laden opened the on-screen TV menu to cover the faces of female reporters and Americans when he watched TV.

 

"Bin Laden's Hard Drive" provides a chilling view into the last years of a monster in a seclusion of his own making.

EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW with Olga Khazan, author of "Weird: The Power of Being an Outsider in an Insider World"

When the COVID-19 pandemic began its full force lockdown of Oklahoma in March of 2020, I was awaiting the arrival of the latest psychology book I had pre-ordered. When it arrived a few days into the massive collective panic, we were all receiving mixed messages about how to protect ourselves from the newest coronavirus. People microwaving their mail was a real thing at that time. In that context, I decided to open the box anyway and begin to read the book I had been impatiently waiting to be released to the public.

 

What book could be worth risking my life to read? The book “Weird: The Power of Being an Outsider in an Insider World” did not disappoint me. The author of the book, Olga Khazan, is a writer for The Atlantic. I had read a number of her articles on health and psychology years ago and one day she contacted me for an interview. After that, she interviewed me for a few more articles. She is one of the best writers of psychological science in the business. Her politics don’t align with mine, but guess what? I am a scientist and she is a science writer and our science aligns. As a conservative writer, I engage in political discussions (and fights) all day long most days. Having discussions about science with other scientists and science-knowledgeable people is as good as it gets for me. That’s the reason I got into psychology. In my social psychology courses I always told students about the importance of Hollander’s concept of idiosyncrasy credits and that no one ever talks about those. In her book, she became the first person I have encountered has made reference to that important concept. Perhaps that means that academically we are “weird” together!

 

In the book Weird, Khazan highlights the advantages and disadvantages that can come from standing out and being different. She talks about her own experiences growing up in Texas in a Russian family. She discussed a woman who had left the Amish and joined non-Amish society. She discussed a trans-gendered politician in a small conservative town, a former Mormon missionary and a plus-sized model pioneer. She discussed many people, all of whom would be considered “normal” if they weren’t living among a different group of people. Some left the new group and some stayed. Some had found their advantages as outsiders who thought differently and stood out, and some could not overcome or reframe that experience.

 

The most important thing is that she interviewed people who were all special, strong, and resilient in some way and all of whom make a difference in their sphere of influence, however large or small. The book reminded me of the story of the ugly duckling, who was different than the other ducks and turned into a swan. That children’s story gives hope to those who are different. “Weird” does the same. 


Her book is entertaining, emotionally powerful, and mixes in a great deal of empirical research from experimental psychology. Everyone feels left out or isolated at times and thus anyone can connect with the human elements of pain and pride in the stories she has collected. Khazan’s self-disclosure creates a strong bond with the reader and is a literary tool she used quite effectively. I suggest that you read her book.

 

I had the opportunity to interview Olga Khazan about her book. Here is our discussion.

 

RM: How did you become interested in writing about health, science, and psychology?

OK: I've always had an interest in it, from what I can recall. In college, I was torn between majoring in psychology, journalism, or pre-law. I'm lucky I have a career that combines elements of all three.

 

RM: What are your two favorite articles that you have written for The Atlantic and why are they your favorites?

OK: I really enjoyed writing this one because it brought me back to Midland, Texas, where I'm from, to report on teen pregnancy prevention, which I'm really passionate about. And almost every woman I know identifies with this one, about how men view women's humor.

 

RM: What do you think is the hallmark of a good journalist?

OK: Curiosity. Understanding what pisses you off and why.

 

RM: You wove other people’s stories around your deeply personal narrative. Was it scary to disclose so much of your own insecurities and pain? Was it therapeutic to put it on paper in such a way that you could deeply reflect on your own journey?

OK: It wasn't that scary, because I write in a pretty self-confessional style on our site and on my Twitter account. I did wonder if people would end up with the wrong impression of me or something like that, but some people will choose to misread anything, no matter how careful and opaque you are. It wasn't really very therapeutic, but I don't really write for therapy. Usually I only write about something if I've already processed it on a level beyond therapy or even what I would talk about with a friend. Once I heard a good memoirist (I forget who) say that you shouldn't write about something you aren't ready to talk about. I think that's good advice.

 

RM: What was the most personally powerful story that you encountered from one of your interviewees? Did that story change you in anyway?

OK: The story of Emma Gingerich, the woman who ran away from the Amish, really stayed with me. I think she's one of the most tenacious people I've ever met, and she had to overcome so much. Obviously, all outsiders face hurdles, but the twist to her story was that she was raised in a different time than everyone else. She hadn't used a computer or phone until she was practically an adult. Whenever I feel like what I'm facing is just too much and I'll never be able to do it, I think about everything she overcame and muster that last bit of energy :) 

 

RM: Is it rewarding to think that your book can help others who feel left out and inspire them to reframe their experiences? What message do you have for those who find themselves “weird”?

OK: I would say the big takeaway is that what you tell yourself matters. As I write in the book, a big strength that the more successful "weirdos" have is that they're able to tell themselves better narratives about whatever is happening to them. Rather than being a victim, they're the underdog who's poised for a win. Rather than an oddball, they're the creative genius. I don't mean to make this sound easy—I'm a pretty negative person, and I find it hard to put a happy face on things. But *trying* to come up with a better story for your life is a really good way to tap into those last reserves of resilience and make it through a difficult time. (Actually, it's okay if you're even lying to yourself a little bit, as long as you're not so delusional as to be hurting yourself or others.) When the poop really hits the fan in my life, I've started telling myself, "at least I can write about this." It's my own version of coming up with a more positive way of seeing things.

Analysis of President Trump's 2020 State of the Union Address

Here I analyze President Trump’s State of the Union Address from February of 2020. I analyze political speeches through the lens of Jonathan Haidt’s Moral Foundations Theory. With Haidt’s Moral Foundations there are norms of harm/care and fairness/reciprocity, which are the two foundations through which liberal Democrats tend to analyze information.  Conservative Republicans tend to analyze information through those two along with ingroup/loyalty, authority/respect, and purity/sanctity. I created a scorecard and I analyzed the 2020 State of the Union speech using these moral foundations. Similarly, in 2018 I analyzed President Trump’s State of the Union address for Psychology Today (State of the Union 2018).

 

For harm/care and fairness/reciprocity, each had 15 instances of things the president said that fit into those categories. For ingroup/loyalty and authority/respect there were 4 instances in each of those categories and there were 9 instances for purity/sanctity. That shows the President and the President’s speechwriters were looking to give information that hit on the common ground between Democrats and Republicans.

 

Some examples of the harm/care foundation were when he discussed health care, prescription cost decreases, the opioid epidemic, and neonatal research. Examples of fairness/reciprocity were things like criminal justice reform and replacing NAFTA with the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement. Three times President Trump discussed that as being fairness and reciprocity. He even used those terms, which clearly identified them in the fairness and reciprocity foundation for which he was looking to appeal. He also discussed our allies paying their fair share with NATO. Examples of ingroup/loyalty were his awarding the Medal of Honor to Rush Limbaugh, which played to his base of conservatives. His list of great Americans would also have done the same.

 

In the authority/respect foundation, he discussed military strength and immigration policies that he framed as needing to enforce and following laws. In the purity/sanctity category he emphasized the burden of illegal immigration on taxpayers as well as the issue of prayer and public schools.

 

One of the things I found fascinating in this speech compared to previous speeches is that there is more construal on the part of the audience. Construal means perception—it’s the way that we perceive something. Let’s take his discussion of the Alamo. The Alamo for conservative Republicans plays on the ingroup/loyalty foundation. For Democrats who may look at racial injustices and other views of history that they tend to take may look at that under the fairness/reciprocity foundation and see that as a negative. Clearly Republicans and Democrats are speaking different languages when it comes to moral foundations and its different than what we’ve seen in the past when you would find common ground in those two foundations. Its emblematic of the kind of group polarization we are seeing at this time in history between Republicans and Democrats.   

EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW with Kurt Schlichter, author of "The 21 Biggest Lies about Donald Trump (and You!)"

 

The new book “The 21 Biggest Lies about Donald Trump (and You!)” is an essential read for any Trump voter who is constantly defending their support for the President. The author of the book, Kurt Schlichter, is a retired Army Infantry colonel, Senior Columnist for Townhall.com, protégé of Andrew Breitbart, and a Los Angeles trial lawyer. He is also the host of two podcasts: “Fighting Words” and “Unredacted.”

 

The book debunks 21 well-circulated myths about President Trump and his supporters, and does so with the fact-based, objective rebuttals that you would expect from a successful trial lawyer. This book makes the case that President Trump is not evil, not bigoted, and that he has highlighted the most fundamental elements of conservatism during his administration. It also makes the case that President Trump’s supporters are also not evil, bigoted, and have called for the most fundamental elements of conservatism over the more superfluous elements that the establishment GOP promoted for decades.

 

I had the opportunity to interview Colonel Schlichter about his book. Here is our discussion.

 

RM: Your latest book is an important resource to help defend Trump voters. Why is this book so important? Did you feel a responsibility to write it?

KS: People want to know they can fight back, and I’ve got a few tricks up my sleeve from lawyering, the Army and comedy. But I feel no responsibility to do anything except be amusing.

 

RM: What are the two most important myths dispelled in your book?

KS: There’s really only one overarching one – that liberals are worth arguing with. They aren’t, because in their bizarre post-modern milieu truth is not objective. So why waste time arguing with people who literally cannot be argued with because to argue assumes the possibility of changing your mind. When you are simply saying whatever supports your narrative, that’s an alien concept.

 

RM: How is Andrew Breitbart’s influence on you woven into this book?

KS: Fight and refuse to consider them worthy of respect. They can only win if we submit. They thrive on their unearned position and the prestige they get by default. Deny them those and they freak out.

 

RM: Bill O’Reilly advises people not to talk about politics at work. Your book appears to be designed to prepare people to fight back rather than avoid conflict. What advice do you have for conservatives as they navigate workplaces and family dinners that might be politically treacherous?

KS: Never start a fight, but win it if it’s forced upon you. I don’t go pestering people about my views, until and unless they mess with me. Then go for it.

 

RM: From your perspective, how has Donald Trump forced a change in how the GOP engages in nation building through military action in foreign countries?

KS: The garbage foreign policy elite has not had a real success since the Wall fell. Their policy was an academic exercise that depended on patriotic Americans dying to try to make their lame theories come true. Trump simply placed American interests first, and that meant no new wars we did not need or intend to win.

 

RM: How do conservatives “normalize” conservatism again in the public sphere of media and the new cancel culture?

KS: Brute political force. We start with laws barring the social, cultural and economic discrimination against us in all the institutions. Those institutions that fail to conform must be destroyed.

 

RM: As an attorney, you famously defended Ben Shapiro against defamation claims made in the Texas “Clock Boy” incident that occurred in 2015.  What can we learn about the seeds of the current cancel culture from that moment in time?

KS: He tried to leverage legal power against Ben. That was dumb. He was in a venue where we could get a fair trial. The smart libs fight in venues (judicial and cultural) where they have the advantage and can win without regard to such bourgeois conceits as “facts” and “law.”

 

RM: My area of scientific expertise is attitudes and persuasion, and you served in the military and worked the Los Angeles Riots of 1992. Will you explain the difference between Information and Kinetic operations, and how that is applicable to what we see with the recent riots across the U. S.?

KS: Kinetic operations use force to generate effect. For example, bullets kill the enemy, hence no more enemy. Info ops use imagery and persuasion to create an effect by causing the target to take or forego an action. The riots were an info op designed to demoralize normal citizens and make them retreat from political participation by generating hopelessness and fear. But the violence the media helpfully depicted created the illusion that it was kinetic. They actually forced nothing – even the destruction they caused happened only because liberal mayors refused to unleash the cops, who could have shut it down in a flash.

 

RM: You run a business. How have the pandemic lock downs and mandates affected small business in California? What do you think of President Trump’s performance in leading the federal government through this?

KS: It’s a disaster for businesses that are brick and mortar, like restaurants. Interestingly, the pandemic accelerated the changes already in place thanks to technology by forcing companies to experiment with remote working. I would not want to be in commercial real estate right now. Business found out remote working generally works; it’s never going back to how it was with 95% of folks in an office.

 

I think Trump did fine. I think people are frustrated and don’t really understand that he’s the President and not Harry Potter. There’s no magic wand. The mistakes were at the state and municipal levels.

 

RM: What is the biggest current threat to American citizens?

KS: Democrats who do not believe that non-Democrats have any legitimate rights or interests. They risk causing open conflict because the rest of America is not simply going to shrug and accept serfdom.

 

RM: Why should someone spend their hard-earned money on your book? What value do they get from it?

KS: It’s hilarious, and I want money.

Review of the Clarence Thomas Movie "Created Equal"


Created Equal: Clarence Thomas in His Own Words” is a new documentary of the life of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. The movie documents his rise from extreme poverty to become one of the most important legal minds of his generation. In his childhood, he was raised by his grandparents and followed very strict rules. During his time in college, he strayed away from being a conservative, only to gravitate back to conservatism.


Towards the end of the movie, Thomas discusses at length his experience as a Black conservative and how that does not fit with people’s stereotypes of what he should and should not believe. Those reflections are fascinating because they touch on several different psychological themes. Prejudice is a negative attitude against a group of people. The cognitive component of prejudice is called a stereotype. The discrimination component is the behavioral aspect of the prejudiced attitude. The experience of Justice Thomas as a Black conservative, violating other people’s stereotypes, leads to a phenomenon called subtyping. Subtyping occurs when we see someone who does not fit with our belief of what someone in a group should act like and we recategorize them and classify them as something different from a member of that group. Someone who deviates from a stereotype and is welcomed into another group gets subtyped. The other group members might say “You’re not like the rest of them,” whatever the stereotyped outgroup may be. In this case, most Democrats perceive the stereotypes of “Black” and “Conservative” as conflicting.


We see regular subtyping of conservatives when it comes to different ethnic groups. For example, Nikki Haley, Ben Carson, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Devin Nunes, and Tim Scott are all current leaders and thought shapers in the Republican Party, and all are ethnic minorities. Similarly, all are dismissed by many as not being representative of their ethnic groups. By dismissing their ethnicity, Democrats and others ignore the diversity of thought of any social category. Outgroup homogeneity is a social psychological phenomenon where all of the people in the outgroup are perceived to be the same while ingroup members are celebrated for their diverse range of ideas and individual differences. Thus, many Democrats view these Republican minorities not as ethnic minorities, but as Republicans, and discount the great diversity of the GOP.  This is the context to Joe Biden’s recent statement “If you have a problem figuring out whether you’re for me or Trump, then you ain’t Black.” Biden is featured prominently in the film as he chaired the Senate Judiciary Committee in 1991 and led the opposition to the nomination of Justice Thomas.


In the past we have seen this subtyping of Condoleeza Rice, Colin Powell, Clarence Thomas, and J. C. Watts (from my home state of Oklahoma). We see it with conservative commentators as well. Stacy Washington, Candace Owens, Diamond & Silk, and Dinesh D’Souza are some of the minority commentators who are regularly viewed as not representing their groups because they have ideas that deviate from the stereotype of what their ethnic group members might hold.


The Clarence Thomas documentary is fascinating and worth looking at through a social psychological lens of prejudice, outgroup homogeneity, and subtyping.   

Microbiologists Discuss SARS-CoV-2

I recently interviewed two microbiologists about the basics of SARS-CoV-2, the virus responsible for COVID-19. You may read that interview at the Oklahoma Academy of Science webpage (link below) or on the Articles and Chapters section of my website.

  

https://www.oklahomaacademyofscience.org/covid-19-in-ok.html

Vicarious Living: NPR Hidden Brain Podcast

A recent NPR Hidden Brain Podcast examined how people gain satisfaction from watching other people do things that they wish they were doing themselves. The episode is “Close Enough: The Lure of Living Through Others” (aired March 30, 2020, originally aired in 2019). In addition to interviews with a handful of people about living vicariously through videos and imagination, the episode features an interview with Dr Ed O’Brien. O’Brien is an experimental social psychologist at the University of Chicago and discusses his research on mental simulations. Though the episode does a good job of creating an entertaining narrative and highlighting O’Brien’s fascinating research, it lacks a discussion of the concepts of vicarious learning, perspective taking, empathy, and mirror neurons. Still, it is worth listening to the episode. You can listen to the episode, read the transcript, or read a summary of the episode below:

Click here for the episode

The Landscape and Recent History of Conservative Media in the United States

When I was a kid, every day we had an old black and silver radio in the kitchen. We ate breakfasts, lunches, and dinners together as a family and listened to the radio for the first two meals of the day. Eventually TVs became affordable enough to have more than one in the house, so we put a small one in the kitchen when I was a teenager. For many years of my childhood, fellow Oklahoman Paul Harvey captured my attention with his greeting of “Stand by for news” and signed my lunches off with “Paul Harvey, Good Day!” And of course, Harvey’s The Rest of the Story radio segments and books were family favorites. I was listening to the forerunner of a modern conservative media explosion of talk radio, cable television, podcasts, and websites. 

 

The Fairness Doctrine Era

At the time I was listening to Paul Harvey on the radio, the Fairness Doctrine was in place. The Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) Fairness Doctrine required broadcasters to present both sides of a public issue. The Fairness Doctrine was in effect from 1949 until Ronald Reagan had it repealed in 1987. During this this time period, conservative giant William F. Buckley was the strongest conservative voice, having founded National Review in 1955. Buckley’s TV show Firing Line ran from 1966-1999 and he also wrote the classic books God and Man at Yale (1951) and Up from Liberalism (1959).

 

The Classics of the New Era

The year after the Fairness Doctrine was repealed, Rush Limbaugh’s radio show became nationally syndicated in 1988, but had been in Sacramento since 1984. Limbaugh had a popular TV show that was produced by Roger Ailes from 1992-1996. His TV show warmed conservative audiences up for the launch of Fox News in 1996, for which Roger Ailes was the first CEO. Britt Hume, who had served for 23 years at ABC News and as the chief White House Correspondent from 1989-1996, and Bill O’Reilly, who had served at both CBS and ABC News, gave Fox News immediate legitimacy.

 

Bill O’Reilly hosted The O’Reilly Factor on Fox News from 1996-2017. Sean Hannity started at Fox News in 1996 with Hannity & Colmes and maintains his TV show Hannity as well as his popular radio show The Sean Hannity Show. Laura Ingraham’s radio show ran from 2001-2018 and her Fox News show The Ingraham Angle has run since 2017.

 

Bill Kristol and Fred Barnes operated The Weekly Standard from 1995-2018. The neo-conservative publication faltered with conservative audiences after Donald Trump’s 2016 election and Bill Kristol’s Never Trump position.

 

Matt Drudge created The Drudge Report website in 1995. One of his staff members, Andrew Breitbart, went on to found Breitbart.com in 2005. Breitbart’s site helped launch the conservative media careers of several notables including Dana Loesch, Larry O’Connor, Ben Shapiro, and Kurt Schlichter.

 

Glenn Beck’s radio show launched in 2000 with national syndication following in 2002. His TV show ran on CNN (2006-2008) and Fox News (2009-2011). He launched his own independent media platform The Blaze in 2011.

 

Larry Elder’s show has been around since the early 1990’s, morphing back and forth from TV to Radio.

 

The Best of the Neophytes

The Federalist was founded in 2013 and includes the notable Senior Editor Mollie Hemingway. Townhall.com was founded in 1995 and has had a resurgence in the past few years, with notable writers Katie Pavlich, Larry O’Connor, and Kurt Schlichter. RedState.com was founded in 2004 and has also seen a recent surge of popularity. Conservative Review was founded in 2014 and is now owned by Blaze Media, with Mark Levin as the editor. Levin’s radio show has been aired since 2002 and his Fox News TV show since 2017.

 

The Dispatch was founded in 2019 by former National Review writer Jonah Goldberg and features Senior Editor David French, also a former National Review writer. The Dispatch leans more towards libertarians and Never Trumpers. The Hill was founded in 1994 and features Joe Concha. The Washington Examiner was founded in 2005 and features Byron York as the Chief Political Correspondent.

 

There are several new conservative leaning TV networks. One America News was founded in 2013 and features Alex Salvi and Graham Ledger. Newsmax started as a website in 1998 and launched its TV channel Newsmax TV in 2014, recently adding Sean Spicer to their lineup.

 

There are many conservative personalities that have podcasts of their radio shows, or just stand-alone podcasts. Ben Shapiro of The Daily Wire hosts The Ben Shapiro Show. Ted Cruz and Michael Knowles host The Verdict, which became the number one podcast in America when it launched during the Senate Impeachment Hearings in January of 2020. Stacy Washington’s Stacy on The Right podcast is also growing in popularity.

 

These conservative media outlets offer a wide variety of perspectives and differing views on many issues. The repeal of the Fairness Doctrine in 1987 created an opportunity for conservatives to test their ideas in the marketplace. Platforms such as radio, television, independent websites, YouTube channels, internet radio, and podcasts have all allowed conservatives a chance to be heard and to display a range of voices. 

 

Further Reading

Hanson, V. D. (2020, February 11). Limbaugh: A genius at radio National Review (online).

Mather, R. D. (2016, June 3). Fox News and American politics since 1994. Psychology Today (online).

Mather, R. D. (2016, December 20). God and man on AM Radio. Psychology Today (online).

Rosenwald, B. (2019). Talk radio’s America: How an industry took over a political party that took over the United States. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

COVID-19 and Concepts from Social Psychology: Emotional Contagion, Social Dilemma, and Psychological Reactance

 

There are several social psychological concepts that are relevant to the current COVID-19 Pandemic. Here I will discuss emotional contagion, social dilemmas, and psychological reactance.

 

Emotional contagion: The rapid spread of emotions through a social network or crowd. For example, in 1938 Orson Welles did a radio broadcast of War of the Worlds that frightened people across the nation. People heard the broadcast of an alien invasion and panicked. Some called the police, who were also panicking in some places. The fear spread from person to person. During this pandemic, the spread of fear has been on display for several weeks.


Social Dilemma: A conflict where what is in the best interest of individuals is different than what is in the best interests of the collective group.  Voluntary watering restrictions is an example. When a town goes on voluntary watering restrictions, it is in each person’s best interests for everyone else to limit their water usage while that person waters the heck out of their lawn that now looks even better compared to the lawns of their neighbors. But if everyone does that, the water supply will drop and the town will have mandatory restrictions. That’s exactly what happens, and city planners take the rapid increase of consumption into account when they declare voluntary watering restrictions. They know that they will quickly get to the mandatory restriction level with the new surge of usage. With the pandemic, it is in everyone’s short-sighted individual interests to carry on with life and let other people worry about self-quarantines. However, it is in the best interest of the collective group for social distancing and self-quarantines to limit the spread of COVID-19.


Psychological reactance: When people believe a freedom is being taken from them, they respond by performing the thing they think they aren’t supposed to do. One study sought to solve a graffiti problem and used two different signs. One said, “Do not write on these walls under any circumstances.” The other said, “Please do not write on these walls.” Two weeks later there was more graffiti on the wall of the first sign than of the second (and more graffiti on the first actual sign, too!). People are ornery suckers, and don’t take being told what to do all that well. That’s why many people, predicting large restrictions to their freedoms coming at the city, state, and federal levels, have defiantly increased their social contact with others during this pandemic.

The Psychology of Quarantine: Social Media to the Rescue!

Given the recent COVID-19 Pandemic, it is an appropriate time to review the research on the psychological impact quarantines. Quarantines differ from isolation. Quarantines restrict people who are potentially exposed to the contagion in order to protect others. Isolation separates those who have been infected by the contagion to protect those who have not. Here I will discuss quarantines.

 

In Lancet on March 14thof 2020, Brooks et al. (2020) published a review of 24 psychological studies of quarantine. They reviewed research from outbreaks of SARS, Ebola, H1N1, Middle East respiratory syndrome, and equine influenza. They suggested that the collective benefits of quarantine must be calculated along with the potential psychological costs when deciding to mandate quarantine. This should apply to both mandated quarantine and self-quarantine.

 

One study of hospital staff found quarantine was more predictive of stress disorders than staff who had not been quarantined. Compared to non-quarantined staff, quarantined staff had increased exhaustion, detachment, anxiety, irritability, and worse concentration after their quarantine. Another study showed that quarantine predicted post-traumatic stress symptoms in quarantined hospital staff three years later. A separate study found post-traumatic symptoms increased post-quarantine for both children and parents, with a 400% increase in symptoms for quarantined children over non-quarantined children.

 

A study of college students found no differences on post-traumatic symptoms or mental health problems between quarantined and non-quarantined students. This is good news for college students in a quarantine!

 

One study of 1656 quarantined individuals found small percentages of anxiety (7%) and anger (17%) during the quarantine, but the symptoms nearly disappeared 4-6 months later (3% anxiety, 6% anger).

 

Three years after SARS, healthcare workers who had been quarantined were more likely to abuse alcohol.

 

In general, quarantine does change behavior. After a quarantine, people are more likely to avoid people who are coughing or sneezing, avoid crowded places that are enclosed, and avoid all public spaces for several weeks.

 

A history of psychiatric illness increases the level of quarantine related anxiety 4-6 months post-quarantine.

 

Overall, here is what you can expect to experience in a quarantine.

--The longer the quarantine, the worse the deterioration in mental health, post-traumatic stress symptoms, and anger. Avoidance behaviors increase with length of quarantine.

 

--Increased sense of boredom, frustration, and sense of isolation.

 

--If supplies are inadequate, this increases frustration during the quarantine and predicts increased anxiety and anger 4-6 months post-quarantine.

 

--If information from health officials in inadequate, fear increases. Individuals who perceive compliance with the quarantine as difficult are the most likely to experience post-traumatic stress symptoms after the quarantine.

 

--The more financial loss the person experiences from the quarantine, the more anger, anxiety and other psychological disorder symptoms they experience months later. This disproportionately affects lower income people more than higher income people.

 

--Quarantined people report experiencing stigma in their local neighborhoods if they have been targeted for mandated quarantine. They face withdrawn social invitations, fear, and criticism. This is increased when media coverage features dramatic negative headlines, which occurred during the SARS outbreak.

 

Based on the research, the top two things you can do during a quarantine to reduce the psychological impact:

 

--Frame it as an altruistic act that helps other people.

 

--Remain active in your social network.

 

A quarantine highlights one of the most important elements of social media—social connection that can occur remotely. Take advantage of your social media and stay connected. It’s the best thing you can do for yourself in a quarantine AND it helps other people, which helps you too!

 

Reference

Brooks, S. K., Webster, R. K., Smith, L. E., Woodland, L., Wessely, S., Greenberg, N., & Rubin, G. J. (2020), The psychological impact of quarantine and how to reduce it: Rapid review of the evidence. Lancet, 395, 912-920.

 

The Utility of Lying: NPR Hidden Brain Podcast

A recent podcast of an older interview with psychological scientist Dr. Dan Areily from March 2017 (NPR Hidden Brain Podcast, February 17, 2020) is fascinating. Areily outlines the general findings of his extensive experimental research about lying.

 

His work highlights the fact that people tend to behave honestly as a default, following moral norms. He gives examples of people who call restaurants to pay when they have forgotten to do so, and in other work he has discussed how the honor system is sometimes more effective for inducing compliance than a system that is punitive.

 

Another finding is that opportunity is one of the largest determinants of whether someone lies or cheats at something, with escalation of commitment as the mechanism that can lead a person to deeply break rules. He gives an example of a man who started out with an injury which led to a progressive chain of small commitments that resulted in that man being arrested for drug trafficking. As we have seen in the Milgram conformity experiments, it is easy to end up at an extreme when you have a track record of accepting small requests. If I flipped the last 10 switches, why wouldn’t I flip the next one?

 

Based on his empirical research, Areily proposes that we should induce an honesty mindset from the beginning of a process. Thus, it implies that we should have the oath statements of “I swear to tell the whole truth, so help me God” at beginning of the process rather than swearing confirmation of facts at the end. That induces a mindset of honesty that colors the entire transaction. I suggest that both are useful.

 

He also discussed the usefulness of self-deception, while acknowledging that there are consequences. For him, as a severe burn victim, self-deception played a role in his successful recovery.

 

Perhaps the most interesting is his finding that it’s not risk takers or intelligent people who cheat more. It’s creative people who cheat more because “Cheating is all about being able to tell a story about why what we want is actually OK.”

Super Tuesday 2020 NBC Exit Poll Shows Large Differences Between Biden and Sanders Voters

In May of 2016, Kurt Jefferson and I published “The Authoritarian Voter? The Psychology and Values of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders Support” (see link below). In that article, we outlined the evidence that the core supporters for both candidates were high on authoritarianism. Thus, authoritarian values had emerged from the populist voting behaviors of both the left and right. Currently, Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders are the front runners for the Democratic nomination and the right to face Donald Trump. Sanders voters are consistently cast as being inflexible and uncompromising—authoritarian.

Last night, NBC News released a Super Tuesday exit poll that compared the answers of voters for Biden and Sanders.

Question: Which candidate quality mattered most in deciding who to vote for?

Answers:

Can unite country: Biden voters 50%, Sanders voters 17%

Can bring change: Biden voters 24%, Sanders voters 49%

Cares about me: Biden voters 18%, Sanders voters 23%

Is a fighter: Biden voters 4%, Sanders voters 7%

NBC reported that Elizabeth Warren voters gave a pattern of answers similar to those of Sanders voters. Clearly, Biden voters are more focused on unification while Sanders voters are more focused on creating change. These two factors will be important to watch as the winner emerges and coalitions are built or not built.

 

“The Authoritarian Voter? The Psychology and Values of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders Support”

http://socialautomaticity.net/images/JSP_May_2016.pdf

 

NBC News Super Tuesday Exit Poll from 03-03-2020

https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/2020-election/live-blog/2020-super-tuesday-live-updates-14-states-hold-primaries-n1146871/ncrd1148966#liveBlogHeader

Election 2020 and Lessons from 2015

Prior to the historic 2016 U.S. Presidential election, Kristen Soltis Anderson published The Selfie Vote: Where Millennials Are Leading America (And How Republicans Can Keep Up). The author of the book was a young, seasoned public opinion pollster and data analytics guru. I heard her speak at the Council of Graduate Schools in December of 2017 and met her briefly. Since that time she now appears regularly on Fox News and provides insightful political commentary.

The Selfie Vote is a data-based guide to the behaviors and preferences of millenials (those born in the 1980’s and 1990’s) as of 2015. It compared that generation to previous generations and noted the strategic deficiencies of the Republicans in the 2012 election, where the Democrats had a cutting edge analytics strategy and platform to match it. The book preceded the 2016 election, and it was obvious that the 2016 election had Republican infrastructure and strategies that had been responsive to those prior deficiencies. For example, President Trump’s team masterfully used social media in the campaign. 

The issues facing millenials at that time were many, and they had particularly important views and behaviors with regard to maternity leave, starting a company, student loan debt, morality and religion, sex, drugs, and urbanization. The Selfie Vote covered data on their opinions towards all of these and how it fit with other generations and what Republicans needed to change in their platform to be successful. For instance, millenials of both parties trend towards being accepting of gay marriage and find it to be a non-issue for them, unlike many voters in the early 2000’s. However, because it is a non-issue for so many of the millenials, it becomes an issue if someone opposes it and actually washes out all other issues. Opposing gay marriage turns most millenials into one-issue voters who will not support that candidate even if the candidate supports all of the other issues the voter supports. But supporting gay marriage doesn’t help candidates appeal to most millenials, because supporting gay marriage is a given to most millenials. The viability of the GOP will be determined by how this issue is handled. With religion declining in the United States, I argue that the viability of churches will also be determined by their stance on the issue of gay marriage. 

Just as it was interesting to see how many of her strategies were implemented in 2016, it is also interesting to see how Election 2020 plays out in the context of her predictions and proposed strategies. Millenials are now 5 years older than when the book was written, so they face slightly different issues and no doubt have slightly different perspectives. Still, there is no reason to believe that millenials have fundamentally changed since 2015.  

If you get a chance, take a look at The Selfie Vote and keep an eye on the upcoming election. 

Podcast Interview from Spring of 2017

In this post-2016 election interview, I discussed political group polarization, free speech, disseminating science to the general population, student loan programs, performance versus mastery goals, parenting, corrections, and evolutionary psychology.

From Wednesday, 06-07-17

muditious podcast #14, interviewed by Jesus Ramones

http://www.muditious.com/podcast

 

Personal Blog Introduction

Welcome to my personal website blog. Keep an eye on this website as I add content. To read my blog at Psychology Today (since 2016), follow the link below: