The Science of Addiction and Trump

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Donald Trump has seemingly made grievances a feature and not a bug of his life, including his presi-duncy. One might consider that he has an addiction to victimhood.

A researcher of violence and the role of grievances and retaliation in violent crime has found an interesting similarity in how a brain on grievance looks a lot like a brain on drugs.

 In fact, brain imaging studies show that harboring a grievance (a perceived wrong or injustice, real or imagined) activates the same neural reward circuitry as narcotics.

This isn’t a metaphor; it’s brain biology. Scientists have found that in substance addiction, environmental cues such as being in a place where drugs are taken or meeting another person who takes drugs cause sharp surges of dopamine in crucial reward and habit regions of the brain, specifically, the nucleus accumbens and dorsal striatum. This triggers cravings in anticipation of experiencing pleasure and relief through intoxication. Recent studies show that similarly, cues such as experiencing or being reminded of a perceived wrong or injustice — a grievance — activate these same reward and habit regions of the brain, triggering cravings in anticipation of experiencing pleasure and relief through retaliation. To be clear, the retaliation doesn’t need to be physically violent—an unkind word, or tweet, can also be very gratifying.

The findings suggest the reality of some people becoming addicted to revenge. And Trump seems addicted to seeking revenge on his enemies, because no matter the harmful consequences to others or himself he is not deterred, and seems unable to stop.

Like substance addiction, revenge addiction appears to spread from person to person. For instance, inner-city gun violence spreads in neighborhoods like a social contagion, with one person’s grievances infecting others with a desire to seek vengeance. Because of his unique position and use of the media and social networks, Trump is able to spread his grievances to thousands or millions of others through Twitter, TV and rallies. His demand for retribution becomes their demand, causing his supporters to crave retaliation—and, in a vicious cycle, this in turn causes Trump’s targets and their supporters to feel aggrieved and want to retaliate, too.

See the rest of this opinion article here at Politico.