Publication Date



Helms School of Government; School of Divinity


Government: Politics and Policy


fear, threat, political rhetoric, political behavior, Augustine, anthropology, political neuroscience, negative emotion, exaggerated threat, tribal combat, religious apocalypse, negativity bias, terror management theory, ideology, conservative, emotional discourse, flight 93, election, trump, biden


American Politics | American Popular Culture | Christian Denominations and Sects | Christianity | Ethics and Political Philosophy | Interpersonal and Small Group Communication | Law and Politics | Law and Psychology | Mass Communication | Other Philosophy | Political History | Political Theory | Politics and Social Change | Religious Thought, Theology and Philosophy of Religion | Social and Cultural Anthropology | Social History | Social Influence and Political Communication | Sociology of Culture | Speech and Rhetorical Studies


Subthreshold negative emotions have superseded conscious reason as the initial and strongest motivators of political behavior. Political neuroscience uses the concepts of negativity bias and terror management theory to explore why fear-driven rhetoric plays such an outsized role in determining human political actions. These mechanisms of human anthropology are explored by competing explanations from biblical and evolutionary scholars who attempt to understand their contribution to human vulnerabilities to fear. When these mechanisms are observed in fear-driven political rhetoric, three common characteristics emerge: exaggerated threat, tribal combat, and religious apocalypse, which provide a new framework for explaining how modern populist leaders weaponize negative emotions to meaningfully influence individual convictions, tribal identities, cultural imaginations, and reactions against outgroups and perceived external threats.