In Brain, Dopamine, Neuroplasticity, Politics by DC McGuire2 Comments

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Which brain chemicals win elections? Serve up large orders of dopamine, serotonin, and oxytocin and as a candidate, and you become irresistible.

#1 Dopamine is the big gun.    Where there’s excitement, good or not, there’s dopamine. Sanders and Trump are masters at priming follower’s dopamine pumps.   Dopamine shoots us its opioid high, puts our more advanced cognitive functions in the closet, and keeps us on the alert for the next fix, because most of us – including all of us with smartphones –  were addicted to this feel-good brain substance long before current politicians began flooding their backer’s minds with the drug.

#2 is oxytocin.  This tasty neurochemical arrives along with a newborn, happens following orgasm, and is produced when we bond in close, caring, supportive relationships.  It causes us feel loving and invested in the wellbeing of others.

#3 is serotonin, the neurotransmitter that’s the calming yin to dopamine’s hyper yang.  It’s the physical and mental balance between activity and rest, that allows contemplation and rational thinking.  It can be restored by engaging in quiet activities, deep breathing, and mindfulness.

Unlike Trump and Sanders, who keep their constituents high on dopamine and cut off from important regions of their thinking brains, the menu of neurochemicals served up by Clinton is usually only small portions of any of our favorites mentioned above. Without scrutinizing the specifics, her statements tend towards the use of data and opinions based on experience.  Regardless of the issue, she tends to dig deep.

A staffer on her campaign once described his experience.  Discussing the next day’s stops, Clinton asked, as always, what the major concerns were in a town they’d be visiting.  Her assistants were expected to have that information handy, and in great detail.  During the briefing it was mentioned that this town had a serious issue with a crumbling bridge.   By time she arrived in that town the next morning, she could describe the bridge design, understood basic engineering challenges, and had thought through funding possibilities in her speech.

In that town with a derelict bridge, Clinton demonstrated her ability as a problem solver, but with all the excitement of a class lecture, or a meeting at City Hall. Zero dopamine.  Oxytocin? Possibly a little, as citizens sensed the candidate cared about them and their predicament,  and, maybe even a small serving of serotonin as they felt reassured that she could offer a solution.  Not exactly the kind of interaction that fires up Sanders or Trump-style fanatic loyalty and inspiration to fight for a win in November.

Clinton’s Winning Formula

It is entirely possible to create a healthy neurochemical “recipe” that might shift Hillary’s standing in the polls.  It’s human nectar, the elixir of life:

2 parts Dopamine –  Amp up audience’s dopamine- fueled excitement with warnings about the country’s real dangers; people who aren’t thinking critically, who don’t take responsibility for their behavior, are not engaged in problem solving, and who lack empathy. And insert some humor, which gives listeners another squirt of dopamine; one that’s enjoyed and remembered, usually long after the fear elements have dissipated.

1 part Serotonin –  Emphasize real solutions, but with compelling intonation, inflections, and pacing – less professor, and more TED Talk.

1 part Oxytocin – Play the “Woman (Grandmother) Card”.   A great leader can express softness with strength.  “Hold” followers with a sense of the caring and reassurance of a wise elder.

     Cheers, and maybe an election victory!

Could she do it?  Yes. Could Bernie or Donald move beyond pushing out of  control dopamine to an appropriate, responsible dopamine/serotonin/oxytocin message and platform? Yes!  Our brains are always waiting for our deliberate or accidental programming – whether we’re running for the President of the United States, or personally committed to living a healthy, happy, successful life!


  1. Cynthia Thurber

    Mucho Interesting. I’ll forward it. Hope all is well. xo Cynthia

  2. Suzanne Steed

    Following today’s media excitement over Hillary’s San Diego speech today about Donald Trump
    is a textbook case of exactly what you are recommending as Clinton’s winning formula.
    I hope she keeps it up. I appreciate reading your thoughts on this, hoping it will happen and then feeling my own dopamine rise in excitement as she manages to ignite a firestorm of
    positive juice. Good work and thank you.
    Suzanne Steed

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