The Neuroscience of Trump

Why did Donald Trump Win the Presidency?

The Problem

In 2015, Scott Adams, the Dilbert cartoonist, predicted that Donald J. Trump would win the 2016 presidential election because Trump used the tools of a “master persuader.” No matter who you voted for, 2016 was a wild year politically.  People seemed to yearn for a change in the way government is run but at the same time many seemed to crave the certainty of a Hillary Clinton presidency.  Nearly every poll tilted strongly for a Clinton win.  Is President Trump actually a master persuader?

Scientists at Immersion Neuroscience have proven that immersion can accurately predict actions after a message.  This research was painstakingly done over two decades during which we traced pathways in the brain that cause people to take actions after receiving a communication.  Neurologic immersion predicts outcomes much more accurately than self-reported data on how much people “like” a message or find it “influential.” People lie, whether intentionally, out of confusion, or simply from a misguided belief that they truly understand why they are doing what they doing. Brains do not lie.

The Study

We are completely nonpartisan. Our team decided to collect data during the 2015 GOP debates to see if we could shed light on the Trump phenomenon. We recruited Republicans planning to vote in the California primary to watch the debates live on January 14, 2016 and January 28, 2016. These two debates were telling because Trump appeared in the January 14 event but sat out on January 28. Different participants were measured for each debate, ranging in age from 19 to 67.


January 14. Seven candidates participated in this debate: Donald J. Trump, Dr. Ben Carson, Senator Marco Rubio (Florida), former Florida governor Jeb Bush, Texas senator Ted Cruz, Ohio governor John Kasich and New Jersey governor Chris Christie. The median immersion for all candidates during the debate was 5.42. Neurologically, Trump won the debate, producing an average immersion in viewers of 6.40, followed by Marco Rubio with an immersion of 5.96 and John Kasich with a 5.59. Immersion is a linear measure. This means that when Trump spoke, viewers were 7% more immersed than when listening to Rubio and 13% more immersed than when Kasich spoke; Trump was 32% more immersive than then New Jersey governor Chris Christie.

Trump’s speaking style produced higher peak immersion than the other candidates but also produced moderately high neurologic frustration as well. His style is uneven but effectively sustained immersion in viewers.

January 28. Seven candidates participated in this debate, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Ben Carson, Chris Christie, Jeb Bush, John Kasich and Kentucky senator Rand Paul. Without Trump, the debate felt different to viewers and the immersion data reflected this. Marco Rubio won this debate with an immersion of 7.45, with Rand Paul and Ben Carson close on his heels. When Trump was not in the room, five of the candidates’ statements had higher average immersion than Trump did during the January 14th debate. Senator John McCain said that when Mr. Trump is present, “all the oxygen is being sucked out of the room;” the neurologic data show that he sucked some of the immersion out of the room as well.

Key Take-Aways:

  1. We do not claim to have predicted the Trump win–many things happened to explain why he was elected, but our findings support Scott Adams’ view that Mr. Trump effectively generates immersion and persuasion in viewers when he speaks. 
  2. Political candidates and speakers of all types should measure immersion during practice sessions in order to identify ways to create powerful immersion peaks and reduce neurologic frustration.
  3. Immersion Neuroscience platform’s ability to measure the neurologic impact of debates in real-time could be used by candidates to pivot debate topics during debates to raise immersion in target groups.

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