Showing posts with label psychoanalysis. Show all posts
Showing posts with label psychoanalysis. Show all posts

July 1, 2023

Changing a lie believing brain with psychology, logic, and attempts at rational persuasion may be futile: psychopathology, neuroscience, ingrained cultural metaphors


By Hal Brown, MSW, psychotherapist and mental health center director retired after 40 years of clinical practice.

Yesterday I praised Chauncey DeVaga for his Salon column which featured the opinions of two esteemed psychoanalysts, Justin Frank and Lance Dodes, both of whom have warned of the dangers of Trump's psychopathology for years.

If you missed the blog you can read it here: Dr. Justin Frank, author of "Trump on the Couch" gives us understatement of the decade about Trump's behavior.

I am on the email list for and by coincidence was sent the article The Language of Lies: How Hate Speech Engages Our Neural Wiring to Foster Division which I found presented another perspective on what I wrote about yesterday.

The article describes the research described In the book "Politics, Lies and Conspiracy Theories, just released, by Marcel Danesi Ph.D., a professor of semiotics and linguistic anthropology at the University of Toronto, Canada. He analyzes the speeches of dictators including Mussolini, Stalin, Putin and Hitler, as well as prominent hate groups.

Here's the summary:

Researchers analyze the language of dictators and hate groups, uncovering a common use of dehumanizing metaphors to fuel hatred. Such metaphors ‘switch on’ neural pathways in the brain, bypassing higher cognitive reasoning centers and steering focus towards certain ideas.

These mental patterns can become entrenched over time, making it challenging for individuals to revise their views even in the face of contradicting evidence.

The research underscores the potential dangers posed by such language, including the escalation of violence and political instability.

Danesi's research shows that such dehumanizing metaphors are powerful "because they tap into and ‘switch on’ existing circuits in the brain that link together important and salient images and ideas. In effect, metaphors bypass higher cognitive reasoning centers, directing our thoughts to focus on certain things whilst ignoring others."

He observes that the more these brain circuits are activated the more hardwired they become. Eventually they.becomes almost impossible to turn off. This can be see with those who believe conspiracy theories. The more the therapies are reinforced the more difficult it becomes to lead these people to rethink their basis of their beliefs and realize they are wrong. 

The conclusion is far from optimistic:

What can be done?

Is there anything we can do to protect ourselves from the power of lies? According to Danesi, the best thing we can do is to understand the metaphors of the other party, and to examine one’s own metaphors.

However, history and science tells us that it is unlikely to work – research shows that once a lie is accepted as believable, the brain becomes more susceptible to subsequent lying.

Those mental health professionals who are attempting to understand the entrenched and erroneous  belief systems of Trump and his hard-core supporters tend to lean toward those who employ an understanding of the way the mind functions based of Freudian, or psychoanalytic theory (the reason for my photo of Freud's couch above).

I count myself among these mental health practitioners who have been trained in psychoanalytical personality theory and either psychoanalysis for them and psychodynamic psychotherapy for me. 

A highly regarded expert explaining the behavior and beliefs of Trump and his cult  is Bobby Azarian, PhD.  He comes from the world of cognitive neuroscience. Unlike Justin Frank, Lance Dodes, John Gartner, Bandy Lee, and far less prominent mental health professionals like me, who have written about Trump's psychology from a psychodynamic perspective, Azarian writes from what I might call simplistically a brain perspective. Another way to put colloquially it is that he writes about the hard wiring of the brain.

Chauncey DeVega interviewed Bobby Azarian in 2019 here:

Racism on the brain: a neuroscientist explains how the world moved right

"The effects of fear and anger [on the brain]" may make us even more polarized, says neuroscientist Bobby Azarian

His "Psychology Today" articles related to Trump and his followers have titles and subtitles like these: 

There's a glitch on the link to his articles, here, so it is temporarily unavailable. Hopefully this will be repaired before long. You can get an idea of what he writes about from the titles and subtitles of his most recent articles related to Trump and his cult.

Bogus conspiracy theories will undoubtedly play a major role in the upcoming presidential election. The question is whether anything can be done about it.

Is the nation's collective narcissism the reason for Trump's popularity and political invincibility? A study suggests a causal link between the phenomena.

This brain quirk makes gaslighting particularly easy.

Research suggests that the president is more intuitive than analytical.

Was Donald Trump sent by God to save America? Some believe so, and that should have us worried.

President Trump’s divisive rhetoric can warp a person’s mind into believing that domestic terrorism is justifiable.

Baffled by Donald Trump's political invincibility? Here are 14 reasons why people continue to support the president despite behavior that would have sunk any other politician.

Trump Is Gaslighting America Again — Here’s How to Fight It Gaslighting refers to a type of psychological manipulation used to get people to question their direct experience of reality. It's also one of the president's favorite techniques.

The president's backers share some consistent and troubling characteristics.

My point is sharing the Neuroscience News article and referencing Bobby Azarian's insights is to emphasize how complex addressing the underlying problem of how, if not insurmountable a task it is, how massive an endeavor it is to alter these deeply held beliefs.

Addendum: There's yet a third aspect to understanding Trump and those in power like him, and the hold they have on their supporters. George Lahoff, retired Distinguished Professor of Cognitive Science and Linguistics at the University of California at Berkeley and now Director of the Center for the Neural Mind & Society has written frequently about this subject and Trump in particular. He was writing about his take on "Understanding Trump" (read essay here) as early as 2016.  His focus in on the often incredible power cultural metaphors have on people. 

It is vitally important to grasp how psychodynamics, the wiring of the brain, and ingrained cultural metaphors among certain groups not only influence but shape belief systems and resulting behaviors. These phenomena are interrelated but also must be understood in their own right to gain a complete grasp of why people think and act the way they do for the betterment of society and their own selfish needs to the detriment of society as a whole.


December 28, 2022

Is it time for a female president? If Republicans or men prevail the answer is no.

Is it time for a female president? If Republicans or men prevail the answer is no.
by Hal Brown 
The slogan and ads  for Virginia Slims probably sold a lot of cigarettes, but it is interesting to note that the use of the word "baby" smacks of male chauvinism. The word "lady" could just as easily have been used. It also show bias because it reads "you've come a long way, baby" rather than simply "we've come a long way." Below you will find some of my Freudian political analysis but even the word "long" could have been chosen by advertisers of the time who were steeped in depth psychology to unconsciously appeal to women. Here's a review of The Hidden Persuaders.

Susan Page, who wrote a USA article yesterday, was on Morning Joe this morning discussing 

In search of the perfect president: What Americans say they want, from age to gender

She was discussing the results of a recent poll about what Americans want in a president This is the portion that, while it didn't surprise me at all, it did pique my interest because it verified what I would have predicted (my emphasis added):

Is it time for a female president? 

Maybe not.

Most voters, a 55% majority, volunteered that gender doesn't matter. That would be news to Hillary Clinton and other female candidates, who believe they encountered political headwinds because of their sex. 

For a significant number of Americans, the Oval Office remains a man's world. Overall, those who expressed a preference chose a man over a woman as ideal by more than 2-1, 28%-12%. 

Among Republicans, 50% said the ideal president would be male while a negligible 2% said she would be female. In contrast, Democrats with a preference chose a woman over a man by 2-1, 24%-11%.

Political independents were the most likely to say gender doesn't matter. Nearly two-thirds, 63%, volunteered that view. 

Is there a gender gap on gender? 

Among those voters with a preference, men by 8-1 preferred a male president over a female one, 32%-4%. Women were somewhat more likely to prefer a male president as well, 25%-19%.  

 I think in writing "maybe not" above, Susan Page was being optimistic. I would have written "probably not" and perhaps added that if Republicans and men had their say we won't have a woman as president in the foreseeable future.

I was trained as a psychoanalytically oriented therapist and then practiced psychodynamically informed though eclectic psychotherapy for 40 years. I often channel Freud when I try to understand behavior, beliefs, opinions, and such.

When it comes to the opinion of the men as to whether they'd be comfortable with having a woman as president one term comes to mind. It is castration anxiety. This is  is a psychoanalytic concept introduced by Sigmund Freud to describe a boy's fear of loss of or damage to the genital organ as punishment for incestuous wishes toward the mother and murderous fantasies toward the rival father.

We can put it less graphically as, say, fears of emasculation, or even less so, feeling threatened by having smart, competent, and confident women in power because it makes them feel diminished.

In Freudian theory, the female counterpart of castration anxiety is penis envy. Both concepts are now quite controversial with the later being the subject of considerable debate and attempts at debunking not only in Freud's time but especially during the Women's Lib era.

The saddest part of this poll, again not a surprise, is that women who had a preference were somewhat more likely to prefer a male president as well, 25%-19% While a 6% difference may seem insignificant to me it suggests that while since the chauvinistic 1950's, while women have come a long way, there are still many many adult women in the United States who I think have a serious self-esteem problem.

Consider the numbers: There are about 108 million women over the age of 18 in the United States. Six percent of that is about 6.5 million. My hunch is that the under 50 years of age demographic of those with a preference would rather have a female president with a much higher percentage the even younger adult women.

The poll doesn't separate middle-of-the-road and never-Trump Republicans from MAGA and far right Republicans. I think the further to the right one is the more they have a belief that men are superior to women.

I don't have polling date to confirm my, hopefully educated, hunches, but my sense is that Republican men are more likely to feel superior to women than Democrat and Independent men. I think that women married to the Republican men who have chauvinistic beliefs are more likely to have low self-esteem. 


You can read more about castration anxiety here:


Just for the hell of it, now that I have my new MacBook Pro I can make images again. Here's what I just made to post on my Mastodon page.

Click to enlarge:

This is from the scene in which the spaceship hits the Moon's eye from Marie-Georges-Jean Méliès 1902 film "A Trip to the Moon" would go on to become one of the most iconic images in cinematic history. Musk has made history by being the man in the moon who sent a rocket of his making into his own eye.

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