Psychology is interesting

I took a bunch of psychology classes in college. They were easy and fun for me. In one class I got extra credit for participating in grad student psych experiments. One such experiment required I take some sort of standard psychological test. I tested as pretty normal except for two characteristics. One was something like “logical versus emotional”. I was way out of the normal range in the direction of “logical”. The other characteristic was “psychological mindedness” or some such thing. On that “axis” I again scored way out of the normal range in direction of being very “psychologically minded”. The grad student that went over my test results with me said the logical was consistent with being an engineering major. But the level of psychological mindedness was usually only found in psych grad students or professional psychologists. I guess that explained why I enjoyed the classes and did well.

With that in mind I find some parts of political campaigns extremely interesting and at the same time disturbing.

The disturbing part has nothing to do with the actual policies of the candidates or that they are exploiting, probably intentionally, certain psychological characteristics that have nothing to do with sound policy. And in fact have been exploited by leaders throughout history to lead their people to disaster and massive genocide against innocent people. Of course those same psychological tools have been used for good as well as evil.

In the following two videos one of the more interesting irrational characteristics is being exploited:


That characteristics is that people tend to go along with the crowd. If large numbers of other people are doing something then there is a strong tendency for others to follow along. People attend political events, sporting events, rock concerts, and many religious events and talk about “the energy” of the crowd. Most people crave this mass excitement and want to be a part of it. In politics the words and the intonation of the speeches are specifically designed (intentionally or not) to stimulate this excitement, to encourage you to participate, and for you to “belong”.

If you remember the 2008 election the media made a big deal about the large number of Obama supporters at the Obama political events. I haven’t noticed that this year. And because I donated some money to the Romney campaign this year I get frequent emails from them. Many of them include pictures of large crowds in support of his campaign. The videos above were just a sample.

I find political events boring. I can sense the “energy” people talk about but the “bandwidth” of the communication is so low that I’m bored. I’d much rather read the politicians policy statements than hear vague words expressed with great excitement interrupted by yelling and applause every few seconds. The “energy” is a source of irritation to me. I get excited by seeing things that work rather than things that excite other people.

That doesn’t mean that I don’t “exploit” this psychological characteristic as well. Besides my personal love of explosives and long range shooting Boomershoot is a means of generating excitement to encourage gun ownership and long range rifle skills. When in front of the camera for Boomershoot I try to emote the enthusiasm that will encourage more participants. I’m not interested in the Boomershoot dinner with a crowd of people but I make it happen, attend, talk to people, and usually say a few things to the crowd because that socialization is extremely important to some people.

This psychological characteristic is just one more reason why we need strict limits on governmental powers. It is not the politician with the best policies that necessarily get chosen. There is some component of policy into the final vote tally but to a large extent it is the politician with the best team of psychologists (whether they realize they are psychologists or not) that can exploit weakness in the human mind for votes, money, and volunteers that will win. And there is a high correlation between those with natural ability in this area and the people who should be kept the greatest distance from political power. Limited government is a means of minimizing the damage done by these people. Both because it reduces the ability of them to do damage and because limited power is less attractive to them in the first place.