Are Trump’s Tweets the Newest Pavlovian Bell?


I felt a bit out of control yesterday,as if threatened, while in actuality I sat in the cool comfort of my suburban home, the only threat being the heat index outdoors. Disclaimer – I am an empath, ’nuff said. While I don’t subscribe to network TV, I admit I am a social media addict.  I write, and human contact isn’t an everyday occurrence, and this works well for me.  But after yesterday, I may just become a hermit.

Most of us are familiar with Pavlov’s dog and the conditioned response.  For those who are not, the short version goes: a dog will associate a neutral stimulus with food until that stimulus is always present at the time of feeding (like the can opener, or the crinkle of a bag).  At that point, the can opener becomes a conditioned stimulus.  Pavlov proved the concept of conditioned response by making his dog salivate every time he rang a bell (the dog believed it would be fed).

Over the past two years, Donald Trump tweeted a ton, and every tweet received press.  In the summer of 2015, in large part due to his provocative tweets, Trump received ten times the press of Hillary Clinton, and more than 20 times the press of his closest primary rival. No press is bad press, and in this case, the press and comedians helped elect President Trump through increased exposure, which has the effect of normalizing an idea.

Not only Americans, but people the world over lap up the President’s tweets like southern gravy and take to social media to either support or fight against what he said, dipping our psyches in conflict day after day, month after month.  So many of these conflicts are values-based, with no hope of changing anyone’s mind, yet we try anyway because core values are vital. The conflicts escalate because conflict hijacks the amygdala while the prefrontal cortex shuts down along with our ability to consider other perspectives.  Until scientists can prove the effects of prolonged exposure to Donald Trump’s tweets and the ensuing conflict, I am jumping off the tweet train because I hate feeling manipulated and now that my brain is working properly I can see the President’s tweets about football players and the NFL for what they are – a fun game for one of the most powerful men on earth.

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