Jen Senko believes that her father was brainwashed. As Senko, a New York filmmaker, tells it, her father was a “nonpolitical Democrat.” But then he transferred to a new job that required a long commute and began listening to conservative radio host Bob Grant during the drive. Eventually, he was holing himself up for three hours every day in the family kitchen, mainlining Rush Limbaugh and, during commercials, Fox News.
“It reminded me of the movie Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” Senko says. “He used to love talking to different people to try to learn their language, but then he became angry about illegal immigrants coming to the country, that they were taking jobs from Americans, and that English was becoming the secondary language.”
I have spent the day with LeDoux at his lab at New York University’s Center for Neural Science looking at human and animal brains – specifically, a tiny triangle of nuclei that sits on the amygdala, which is now popularly thought of as the fear center, thanks in part to LeDoux’s research. The problem: Despite what countless psychologists, journalists and teachers assert, fear doesn’t occur in the amygdala, according to LeDoux.
Psychologists George Bonanno and John Jost studied 9/11 survivors and witnesses. They discovered that those exposed to the attack became more politically conservative, embracing ideologies that “provide relatively simple yet cognitively rigid solutions (e.g., good versus evil, black versus white, us versus them, leader versus follower) to problems of security and threat.”
In 2002, a law professor and former White House adviser named Cass Sunstein coined the term “probability neglect.” It suggests that when people are emotionally stirred by something, especially something they can vividly imagine, they will fear its outcome even if it is highly unlikely to happen. So, the fear of domestic ISIS-spawned terrorist attacks, for example, becomes far greater than the fear of everyday experiences that are much more likely to result in a fatality.
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