Editors' pick: Originally published May 3, 2016.
When you consider brain studies, Donald Trump's success in this year's Republican primaries aren't so mind numbing.
Like many, I initially doubted Trump's high poll numbers, thinking they would surely fall once voting began. But I've watched in disbelief as this brash billionaire has converted his strong poll showings into a commanding delegate lead for the GOP nomination.
To understand how, political analysts have dissected polls, exit polls, and voting results, looking at various attributes: demographics, gender, race, age, income, and values. While these factors are helpful in explaining who is supporting Trump and why, they only tell part of the picture: A poll tells you what a voter thinks, but a brain scan shows you how they think. If you want to know what's on the minds of voters, watch what's going on in their brains.
Here are a few insights from neuroscience studies that reveal how people make voting decisions:
First, many don't vote based on policies. Political scientists have long postulated that there are two types of voters: instrumental and expressive. Instrumental voters support a candidate so that they can implement their policies. Expressive voters support a candidate to register their approval of them. It's like cheering for your team at a baseball game. They might not win, but it's a reward in itself to support them.
According to a study published by the Journal of Neuroscience, Psychology, and Economics, the brain scans of "non-altruists" (those who prefer money isn't donated) have heightened neural activation in the regions associated with expressive voting. Translation: Some voters aren't necessarily condoning Trump's policies. They are deriving pleasure from voting for him, sticking it to the political establishment. They support the messenger, even if his message, like starting a trade war, would be economically deleterious to them.