Robert D. Mather, Ph.D. Blog
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.

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 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. 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. 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!



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?


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”


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

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


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: