Politicians use dopamine highs to drum up trance-like support by using angry, frightening, and aggressive rhetoric. This has been occurring since the beginning of politics. Still, Donald Trump stands out from the crowd, because “he has done this in a thoroughly modern way: He is a troll, someone who scores rhetorical points with outrageous or controversial comments, consequences be damned,” writes Oliver Lee for Vice.
According to Lee, “Trump’s campaign has been abetted in part by a loose configuration of social media users often collectively termed the ‘alt-right’, for lack of a better term. These individuals, many of whom proudly identify as trolls themselves, have developed a strong affinity for Trump, whom they characterize as one of the most skillful trolls in existence.”
Internet trolls are a classic example how dopamine addiction and media addiction can build on one another. Every time we visit a site, watch a video, or view an image on the web, a release of dopamine is triggered. Eventually though, our brains become habituated, and we need increasingly absurd, aggressive, or intense content to achieve the same pleasurable dopamine rush.
Trolling is an easy way to get it. Often cut off from natural sources of dopamine like human connection, trolls turn to internet harassment to get their fix. Donald Trump is a specialist in dopamine-releasing rhetoric. His messaging is aggressive, attention-grabbing, and often controversial. Because of this, he has found a large fan base among troll communities.
According John Herrman, writing for The New York Times, “support for Mr. Trump on 4chan and similar sites started off as manic elation and disbelief at the spectacle of it all – he’s behaving like us! On Reddit at least, that elation has turned into real support”. Subreddit “The Donald”, has at least 90,000 members and is one of the most active on the site.
The internet will likely only become more important in influencing politics in years to come. Though the net is an amazing resource for sharing knowledge and maybe even fostering human connection, it is also fraught with opportunities for excessive dopamine fixes, which cloud judgment, reduce empathy, and impair long-term thinking. It is essential that internet users learn dopamine management skills and pass them on to future generations if we seek a populace capable of selecting the most appropriate political candidates.