Why it’s so hard to lose: the cognitive neuroscience of Trump and Trumpism

Ian Robertson

November 13, 2020, 11:30–12:30


Room Zoom Meeting


Losing is hard .. for some more than others. The above quote is true for President Trump, but not for everyone. For some, winning is actually hard. Why? – Because they don’t have the appetite for dominance and beating someone else arouses anxiety – usually unconsciously – in them that sabotages their performance. But for most of us losing is hard. It is hard for a number of reasons that I will outline, including actual pain as measured reflected in increased pain circuit activity in the brain. One reason why some find it harder to lose comes from their sense of thwarted entitlement. The neuroscientific term for this is ‘frustrative non-reward’ which to the brain is virtually indistinguishable from punishment. Feeling that you have been denied something to which you have been entitled leads a perception of unfairness and frustration which in turn results in anger and anxiety, two emotions that are physiologically almost identical and so which prime each other in dangerous ways. The higher a person’s status and power, the greater the sense of entitlement to the associated privileges tend to be, and hence the greater the pain, anger and fear that arises when these are not provided. White non-college-educated Americans showed a dramatic decline in their levels of happiness leading up to 2016, and along with this an alarming increase in mortality through the ‘disorders of despair’ unparalleled in modern history, except in Gorbachev’s Soviet Union. Remarkably, Hispanics and Black Americans showed an increase in wellbeing over this period, in spite of the fact that their objective economic circumstances were much lower than those of non-college-educated Whites. I will propose some potential explanations for this phenomenon.;


Ian Robertson, Why it’s so hard to lose: the cognitive neuroscience of Trump and Trumpism, IAST General Seminar, Toulouse: IAST, November 13, 2020, 11:30–12:30, room Zoom Meeting.