An addiction model may actually explain tribalism, confirmation bias, and even conspiracy theories/Qanon. Let’s unpack….

Several years ago I started observing the parallels between addiction and political tribalism as marriages/friendships/families imploded over politics….1/
Specifically, I started noticing the parallels between the effect that addiction has on relationships when those relationships (interventions) threaten the continuation of the addictive behavior/activity.

…when confronted with a threat to the addiction, the addict will often cut the loved one out of their life, rather than cut out the addictive behavior.

This has occurred countless times over the last 5 years as people have cut family/friends out of their lives over politics. 3/
For example, I had a daughter tell me that her 80 something year-old mom told her that if Trump and the daughter were both drowning, she (the mother) would save Trump first, and the daughter, second, if at all.

This is one of many stories people have DM’d me looking for help. 4/
Initially, it appeared to be an “addiction” to the outrage, anger, or fear.

But then I came across research explaining dopamine, which is related to the reward center of the brain, in terms of “subjective utility”. This got me thinking about confirmation bias: 5/
That the “addiction” wasn’t to the outrage/anger/fear.

Instead, the addiction was created by repeatedly receiving a dopamine reward every time their subjective beliefs (bias) were confirmed by Rush/Hannity/Tucker.

The anger/fear was the by-product of the addictive process. 6/
But, as I explained on the Lincoln Project podcast, this addictive process may have a second, compounding factor to it because….. 7/
….research has shown neuroanatomical regions associated with physically painful experiences exhibit increased activity when people experience social exclusion or separation (as explained in this thread about Qanon).
As mentioned above, dopamine is related to the “reward system” of the brain, and is involved in the pleasurable experiences related to sex, gambling, etc.

Dopamine is associated with the high experienced with cocaine use/addiction.

Similar to social exclusion/separation…..pain/discomfort avoidance is also a factor in certain addictions:

The “DTs” (delirium tremens) experienced by alcoholics who suddenly quit drinking....and opioid/heroin withdrawal.

"Relapse" provides relief from withdrawal symptoms. 16/
With this as a backdrop, it’s conceivable to conceptualize political tribalism (& perhaps even cultism), through an addiction model where there's a cocaine-like hit on the front end that pulls them in...

....and an opioid-like withdrawal that prevents them from pushing away. 17/
But there’s another important factor at play in this process that not only appears to contribute to tribalism, confirmation bias, but also conspiracy theory susceptibility, radicalization, and Qanon.

That factor: “anticipation”.

Or, as Robert Sapolsky explains in this short video:

The power of “maybe”.

Watch this, and then keep reading:

Now consider how anticipation affects the role dopamine plays in confirmation bias.

In this context, the dopamine hit isn’t experienced by having a correct opinion/belief (their bias being confirmed), the dopamine hit is experienced from the “anticipation” of being “right”. 20/
But all of this really gets interesting when viewed through the lens of dopamine optimization being tied to the 50/50 anticipation-to-reward ratio, because it would seem to have implications for radicalization and extremism:

Since dopamine production/release isn't maximized by correctly anticipating the outcome 100% of the time… order to experience optimal dopamine production,...

….people would need to constantly seek out new “sources” and new information that would consistently introduce "unanticipated"/unknown details, in order for them to have a heightened dopamine experience......because being 100% correct doesn't produce that.

If someone watched/listened to FOX for years/decades, and had memorized the talking points….they would eventually be able to anticipate future narratives 100% of the time.

This would produce a limited dopamine experience, even though their biases are completely confirmed.

However, when right wing news consumers then turn on OANN, Newsmax, Alex Jones, etc., and hear new fantastical details that are added to the mainstream right-wing narrative, these people's anticipation-to-reward ratio has now been disrupted.

And as Sapolsky demonstrated,…

…..this disruption will cause dopamine spikes, which are optimized when people are not able to correctly predict or “anticipate” 50% of what they are being told.

This creates an incentive structure where they are “rewarded” by continually seeking out more extreme, more radical, and more delusional information and narratives in order to continually maintain the optimum 50/50 anticipation-to-reward ratio.

This process basically mirrors "tolerance" as seen in other forms of addiction, except that rather than building a tolerance to increased levels of an addictive substance, the individual builds a tolerance to the known (dis)information.

And instead of having to increase the ingestion of an addictive substance to chase the “high”….. they need to continually increase the amount of new, un-anticipatable (dis)information.

This results in people perpetually seeking out more delusional, more fantastical, and more conspiratorial information because, eventually, anything remotely factual has already been heard, and therefore can be “anticipated”.

With this as a backdrop, it's easy to see how dynamic plays into Qanon and conspiracies theories.

As Sapolsky said, “’maybe’, is addictive like nothing else out there”.

“Maybe”, is the essence of conspiracy theories:

“Maybe, X is happening/occurring”

The “anticipation” and the 50/50 optimization of dopamine production may explain why people aren't deterred when predictions, and the expectations created by those predictions, do not come true in cult situations or with Qanon.

Based on this model….

..…the delusional, non-occurring predictions may actually reinforce belief in the conspiracy/cult because it supplies the necessary 50% miss rate needed for optimum dopamine production….

....with the other 50% of perceived “accurately anticipated” events being the result of delusional subjective interpretations of events that create “false positive” confirmations:

Other relevant threads, including whether Qanon is morphing into a religion: 35/
A thread involving dopamine and Toxplasmosis: 36/
A thread analyzing dopamine and Covid denial:
Thread analyzing the manipulation of neuropsychological fear responses: 38/
Article form of the original thread. No paywall: 40/
Thread on the "Fire Hose of Lies" disinformation campaign: 41/
This is a really interesting TedTalk on addiction. Applying it to the political climate, and viewing it through the lens of demonization/tribalism.....The obvious challenge we face as a country?........42/…
...How to re-establish connection & strengthen "bonding"....when the incentive structure for many in the media, especially people like Tucker Carlson, is to create an emotional response that not only sabotages those bonds with fellow Americans, but also with family members? 43/
Follow up thread analyzing a study that found parallels between addiction and white supremacy:
Follow up/related thread addressing dopamine-related illnesses such as Parkinson's/Schizophrenia, and the effect of exposing people with altered states of perception...either due to illness/disorder, or "self-medication"... to Qanon/conspiracy theories:

• • •

Missing some Tweet in this thread? You can try to force a refresh

Keep Current with Nick Carmody JD, MS Psych

Nick Carmody JD, MS Psych Profile picture

Stay in touch and get notified when new unrolls are available from this author!

Read all threads

This Thread may be Removed Anytime!


Twitter may remove this content at anytime! Save it as PDF for later use!

Try unrolling a thread yourself!

how to unroll video
  1. Follow @ThreadReaderApp to mention us!

  2. From a Twitter thread mention us with a keyword "unroll"
@threadreaderapp unroll

Practice here first or read more on our help page!

More from @Nick_Carmody

Sep 23
Attached below are several relevant threads analyzing the neuropsychology involved in conspiracy theory susceptibility and belief.

Relevant thread #1 analyzing the neuropsychology involved in conspiracy theory susceptibility and belief.

Relevant thread #2 analyzing the neuropsychology involved in conspiracy theory susceptibility and belief.

Read 4 tweets
Aug 4
Regardless of whether it’s impeachment hearings, or political violence…

…Trump’s indictments, and potential criminal convictions, make it increasingly likely the Right will engage in revenge politics.

Let’s unpack the neuropsychology of the “hedonic reward” of revenge…

I’ve analyzed the role of dopamine/addiction in confirmation bias, tribalism, conspiracy theory susceptibility......


....and have also analyzed how/why people experience distressing somatic/physical symptoms when consuming politics.

Read 28 tweets
Jun 24
Is there a potential relationship between a lack of self-efficacy....

(“Learned helplessness”….fragility….and victimhood)

….and an attraction to authoritarian leaders?

Is self-efficacy lower in rural conservatives?

Let’s unpack……

After listening to the podcast referenced... of the things that wasn’t mentioned was the role that personality traits play in political ideology.

A short story:

In 2010, well before I decided to formally pursue psychology, I experienced two Traumatic Brain Injuries, 8 months apart.

My obsession to understand the changes in my personality/brain functioning eventually led me to study theories of personality, personality traits, etc.

Read 77 tweets
May 23
The response to E. Jean Carroll’s sexual assault verdict is the latest example of the Right’s tribal defense of Trump.

Defending Trump requires detachment from reality…

...and, most importantly…

...abandoning, what science refers to as:


Let’s unpack…

In science, a hypothesis/theory is credible if it is “falsifiable”.

This means there must be the possibility that the claim can be tested and proven wrong…

...with the conclusion being that, if the hypothesis/theory is tested and proven wrong, then it is not true/accurate.

Non-“falsifiability” is the foundation of many conspiracy theories:

The Right makes wild, speculative claims that activate/trigger neuropsychological processes in the brain involving dopamine (addiction) and/or fear.

Read 42 tweets
May 6
There are 3 things at play:

1. An increased number of psychologically disordered people in power

2. The effect disordered politicians have on people who have disordered traits or actual disorders

3. The effect disordered people have on non-disordered people

Let’s unpack…

1/ ImageImageImage
Trump is uniquely disordered, and therefore uniquely dangerous.

I’ve analyzed Trump’s psychological profile extensively, here…….


Read 47 tweets
Apr 16
Interesting conversation w/@hubermanlab & @jordanbpeterson .

Several things expand upon concepts/theories that I’ve previously observed/analyzed through a political lens including dopamine/addiction, emotion over logic/reason, etc.

Let’s unpack…

Important topics covered include:

- The effect that physical/somatic responses of the body have on logic/rationality/judgment.

- Relationship between dopamine (reward system of the brain involved w/addiction) & norepinephrine (adrenaline, which creates physical reactions).

- The role that dopamine “rewards” play in neuroplasticity (the neural rewiring of the brain)

- The neuropsychological (dopaminergic) effect (excessive "rewards") of “affluence” on children/people.

Read 60 tweets

Did Thread Reader help you today?

Support us! We are indie developers!

This site is made by just two indie developers on a laptop doing marketing, support and development! Read more about the story.

Become a Premium Member ($3/month or $30/year) and get exclusive features!

Become Premium

Don't want to be a Premium member but still want to support us?

Make a small donation by buying us coffee ($5) or help with server cost ($10)

Donate via Paypal

Or Donate anonymously using crypto!


0xfe58350B80634f60Fa6Dc149a72b4DFbc17D341E copy


3ATGMxNzCUFzxpMCHL5sWSt4DVtS8UqXpi copy

Thank you for your support!

Follow Us on Twitter!