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:

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More from @Nick_Carmody

Sep 21
It's the (d)evolution of the midlife crisis…

Remember when the midlife crisis only involved buying a red sports car...

...and maybe a subscription to “Ashley Madison”, the infamous dating site...(“Life is short, have an affair”)...?

It’s gotten worse.

Let's unpack…

The (d)evolution of the midlife crisis is something I've observed/analyzed with men at a gym I use when visiting a friend in an upscale suburb.

In 2016, I wrote a grad school paper on the midlife crisis, and included a Mazda commercial that struck an emotional cord in men.

That Mazda commercial now feels quaint as it romanticizes men reliving their youth....that in many cases actually existed.

The commercial fades out with the voiceover claiming that the new car...

....“reminds you….of when you….were you…..”

Read 16 tweets
Sep 21
Republicans/Trump create "pathologically unrealistic expectations".....that it's impossible for the GOP to lose elections... that when they do, MAGA is convinced the election *must* have been stolen....

...and will patriotically steal it back:

Thread written on election morning of 2020 outlining Trump's plan for undermining trust in elections to illegally remain in power:

Read 9 tweets
Sep 20
"The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn't exist."

Remember Carlson's gaslighting with Qanon?:

Create a narrative where anyone worried that the Right was being consumed by a conspiracy cult...

...was consumed with a conspiracy theory.....


.....Qanon didn't have a website.


....the Qanon conspiracy cult continued to grow in influence.....

....culminating with Trump's recent Ohio Rally:


Read 18 tweets
Sep 19
The Right demagogues about the politicization/weaponization of the DOJ/FBI...

....but that is exactly what happened under Trump....

....starting with chants of Lock Her Up.

Remember, nearly every accusation/criticism is a confession/admission (projection).

Similar to late term abortions, the Right uses rare occurrences/elements of truth to define the entire issue.

With "the weaponization of the DOJ/FBI", they use investigations of people threatening school board members/doctors... create fear in/incite suburban moms...2/
...because if they can convince the country the FBI is out to get suburban moms...'s much to get them to believe the DOJ/FBI is abusing their get Trump ("witchhunt").

Basically, it creates a shared persecution narrative/experience.
Read 9 tweets
Sep 18
This feels like a Qanon Megachurch televangelist congregation gathering to worship......1/
Read 5 tweets
Sep 18
The childish, immature T-shirts and signs are similar to those seen at tailgate parties before an SEC game.

Politics as sport...

Politics as entertainment...

Politics as identity ("fandom")....

Read 4 tweets

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