As I’ve said in earlier posts, I used to get angry about politics and the media. But over time, I got curious. How was it that people I otherwise like and respect could have such different political views than I?

Ok, it was really more like, “How can they be so wrong?!?”

What I have come to realize over time is that we are all being manipulated. And here’s the method to their madness.

They don’t want you to THINK.

More specifically, political media is specifically designed to target our emotions, mainly anger and fear, and trigger the emotional/chemical responses that form the basis of our survival instincts. As Joey Brewer eloquently explained in his 2011 blog post, The Psychology of Manipulation in Political Ads, “As It is part of our biological legacy to have a ‘fight or flight’ system that increases our alertness so we can make rapid decisions when a new threat appears. One of the consequences of this alert state is that we tend to break the world into absolutes — black or white, right or wrong, good or bad. We are less attuned to nuanced information about a person’s moral character or the details of a policy proposal. We also fall back on our herd mentality with a tendency to uncritically align with people we consider to be like us (and to distance ourselves from those we consider ‘the other’).”

Additional research has also shown that emotion shapes our moral judgments prior to formulating reasons for taking our positions. So, when the political media targets your anger and fear, they want your thinking brain to cut out. In an emergency, too much thinking (and too little action) can be the difference between life and death. Still, most of us labor under the misconception that we form our opinions using on our rational brains. That is simply not the case. And media strategists know this.

Furthermore, liberals and conservatives are wired differently. Studies have shown that conservatives tend to respond more quickly to stimuli invoking fear and disgust. Research aside, in my experience both sides can get equally aroused. What triggers their fear and disgust is simply different. And, when coupled with the messaging delivered by social media and mobile technologies today, Americans can get entrenched in their political views to the point of viewing the underside of China. And that’s a problem.

On some level, political anger is addictive. I know it is for me. I watched something, get angry, feel the resulting surge of adrenaline coursing through my veins. And it feels GOOD! So I watch some more.

But here’s the thing …

My son was a high-level athlete, and a very intense one at that. When he’s teammates screwed up, he was an in-their-face kind of guy. One day, I pulled him aside and asked him, “Do your teammates play better after grilling them?”

He thought about it and said finally, “Some do, and some don’t.”

“Exactly,” I responded, “But what’s your goal?”

“To win.”

“So figure out what makes each person play better. Some people will respond to being challenged, but most won’t. Determine what you need to do with each person to help you achieve your goal.”

I now view political discourse similarly. Looking back, I’ve never once forcefully argued someone into adopting my positions.

When calm and amiable, however, I have caused them to think a little.

Which is exactly what “they” don’t want us to do.