What makes a person magnetic and why we should be wary
That was precisely what John Antonakis, a professor of organizational behavior, and the director of the doctoral program in management at the University of Lausanne who has spent years studying charismatic speakers, told me. “Charismatic techniques can be taught,” he said. Antonakis has identified a series of what he calls Charismatic Leadership Tactics (CLTs), which range from the
- use of metaphors and storytelling to
- nonverbal methods of communication like open posture and animated, representative gestures at key moments.
When taken together, he has shown, they have helped decide eight of the last 10 presidential elections. “The more charismatic leadership tactics used, the more individuals will be seen as leader-like by others,” he said. (Read here how Antonakis breaks down the CLTs of super-popular TV preacher Joel Osteen.)
Tony Campolo had mastered all the tactics. In the 1970s and ’80s, Bart Campolo and his father traversed the country in a beat-up, sky-blue Dodge Coronet, giving sermons wherever they could. Campolo marveled at his father in action. “My dad was one of the most charismatic people in the world,” Campolo said. “I’ve been around black preachers and people like my dad, who can go up and down the spectrum, do the whisper that you can’t help but listen to, tell the joke, then tell the tear-jerking story, and then the fiery fulmination. He can do it all over the map.”
Many of the most important lessons of Bart’s vocation came after the elder Campolo’s sermons were over. That was when Bart’s dad would ask his son what he’d seen, what worked, what didn’t, and why. Like how to read a room.
“You try to figure out who’s the most difficult part of the room,” Campolo said. “Say you’re at a college campus and there’s a bunch of athletes sitting on the back row. If you don’t get to them, they’re going to hurt you all night long.” So before you get up to speak, Campolo said, you go to the back of the room and talk to the potential troublemakers. “You might say, ‘Hey man, why did you choose this school? How did you get here?’ You try to get those people on your side even before you get up on the stage.” Or you seek them out while you’re speaking, making eye contact, reaching directly to them.
Campolo offered another example. “I remember one time I was with my dad and we went to this big music festival and there were probably 10,000 kids on a hillside. There’s Frisbees flying around. There’s all sorts of distractions. The acoustics are such that no matter what you do, the crowd won’t hear itself. He was like, ‘This is going to be tough.’ Then he said, ‘I’m going to get up and the first story I’m going to tell is a heavy, emotional story. If I try humor, since they won’t hear anyone else laughing, they won’t laugh. In a space like this, you have to throw the humor away and go for emotional resonance. You can take a group like this down, but you really can’t take them up.”
Campolo said his dad had a natural gift for leadership. But he was certain where that gift came from. His dad, he said, like another famously charismatic leader, had a desperate need to be liked.
“My dad for a long time was the spiritual advisor to Bill Clinton,” Campolo said. “He and Clinton were and are great friends. I was once in D.C. with my dad and he said, ‘Hey, I’m going to visit the president, you want to come?’ Everybody tells you when you’re in the room with Clinton, you’re the only person in the world. He has this ability, this charisma, that makes you feel like he’s really seeing you, he really feels your pain. Both he and my dad lost their fathers early in life. I think that can create a huge insecurity. It often seems that guys like that need a standing ovation every 10 minutes to feel validated. So that’s part of where charisma comes from. It has to do with the emotional makeup of the person.”
Charisma, though, has two halves. It’s a relationship between the person who possesses it and the people who respond to it. It’s only when the spark meets the kindling that a flame can ignite. A charismatic speaking to a mirror is not particularly exciting. Put one in front of a crowd, however, and you’re in for a show.
Emotion is the accelerant. In a 2005 article in Science, Princeton psychologist Alexander Todorov showed individuals two pictures side by side of competing congressional candidates and asked them to rate their competence solely based on their appearance. Their judgments, which they were capable of forming within a second, predicted with almost 70 percent accuracy which candidate went on to win the election.
“We decide very quickly whether a person possesses many of the traits we feel are important, such as likeability and competence, even though we have not exchanged a single word with them,” Todorov said at the time. “It appears that we are hard-wired to draw these inferences in a fast, unreflective way.” Using functional magnetic resonance imaging, Todorov demonstrated snap judgments carry a powerful emotional charge, as they are associated with activity in the amygdala, a primitive brain structure, the seat of the fight-or-flight response.
Jochen Menges, a lecturer in organizational behavior at the University of Cambridge, terms the emotional impact of charisma the “awestruck effect.” He came up with the concept as a doctoral student in 2008, when he traveled to Berlin to hear Barack Obama speak in the hopes he might glean some new insights about how charismatic alchemy worked. When Obama bounded onto the stage and announced he was not just a citizen of the United States, but a citizen of the world, Menges himself was taken in. For a few minutes, Menges forgot why he was there — he was taken out of himself, became a follower.
When he looked around, he was fascinated. Everything he had read on charisma implied leaders worked their magic by making people feel good emotions. But this was not an animated, energized crowd. The entire crowd seemed frozen in place, entranced. Afterward, a woman next to Menges gushed that Obama’s speech was “amazing,” “wonderful,” and “awesome.” Yet when Menges asked her to name three things she liked about the speech, she couldn’t.
In a TED Talk, Menges explained that charismatic leaders put us in awe. “And because we admire them so much, we tend to hold back our emotions in an almost instinctive effort to show our deference to them, to acknowledge their superior status,” he said.
By recreating the “awestruck effect” in the laboratory — by inducing subjects to visualize and write about charismatic figures, and then showing them emotion-laden video clips — Menges demonstrated something profound. While the subjects’ external emotional expression may have been subdued, the subjective emotional experience of those who were “awestruck” was every bit as powerful as those who were not. Indeed, it was more so, as they simply suppressed it out of automatic deference. Psychologists have long known that when we suppress the expression of our emotions, not only do those emotions increase their intensity, but we suffer a cognitive detriment.
Menges found that students were far more likely to report they remembered the exact contents of speeches delivered by individuals who used charismatic speaking techniques that evoke emotions, than the content of speeches from individuals using a straightforward, non-charismatic mode of delivery. Yet written tests revealed those exposed to charismatic speakers remembered far less than those exposed to the non-charismatic speakers. Even so, when offered the chance to follow each speaker into a coffee room to discuss the ideas of their talks, the students almost never followed the boring speaker — and almost always followed the charismatic one.
This does not surprise Richard Boyatzis, who studies organizational behavior, psychology, and cognitive science at Case Western Reserve University. Using fMRI, Boyatzis and Anthony Jack, an experimental psychologist, have demonstrated that emotional speakers engage with a neural pathway called the default mode network (DMN). This pathway, also known as the task-negative network, spans multiple areas of the brain (including the amygdala) and is associated with
- thoughts about others, and
- remembering things in the past.
Interestingly, its activation is often found to be negatively correlated with the very circuits we rely upon for analytic thinking — those involved in
- executive functions,
- attention, and
- problem-solving. “
The problem is these two networks have almost no overlap,” Boyatzis said. “They suppress each other.”
In fact, beyond shutting down our ability to reason, some scientists have found that under the right circumstances, charismatics — especially if that charisma stems from our perception of them as a “leader” — can induce a state akin to hypnotism.
.. In 2011, a team of Danish researchers led by Uffe Schjødt, a neuroscientist at Aarhus University, examined the brains of individuals experiencing one of the most extreme demonstrations of charismatic influence — charismatic healing. To do so, the team recruited 18 devoted, young Christians from faiths with a tradition of intercessory prayer (mainly from the Pentecostal Movement), all of whom reported a strong belief in people with special healing powers. They also recruited 18 secular participants, who did not believe in God and were skeptical that prayer could cause healing.
The researchers found profound differences in brain activity based on assumptions made about the speaker. In the Christian subjects, activity spiked in analytical areas of the brain in response to the non-Christian speakers, but plummeted when they listened to the speaker they believed was known for healing powers. These changes were not present in the secular group. The researchers drew parallels to similar experiments done on subjects on hypnosis, noting that hypnotism, when it works, was usually preceded by the massive frontal deactivation — in effect, a “handing over” of executive function to the hypnotist. Further, they found that “the more the Christian participants deactivate their executive and social cognitive networks, the higher they rate the speaker’s charisma post-scan.”
Schjødt explained his findings in the context of a theory called the “predictive coding framework.” The brain is essentially a pattern recognition machine, constantly making predictions. Our perception is a combination of our prior expectations — expressed in the form of these automatic predictions — and actual sensory perception. As long as the sensory information matches the predictions, the brain hums along. When there is dissonance, the brain steps into make a correction. But when we are around people we believe to have special powers or abilities — when we have made an implicit decision that we can trust them — we seem to unconsciously down-regulate our analytical thinking.
.. “If you expect to experience God, or you are in the presence of a charismatic or religious expert, then you believe whatever is going on is correct, and it will lead you to that particular experience, so you don’t invest too many resources in being skeptical and checking,” Schjødt said.
If charisma is a spark, and a willing audience is the kindling, the right chain of worldly events reveals charisma’s full explosive power. In his book Charisma in Politics, Religion and the Media, David Aberbach zeroes in on historical pivot points that set the stage for transformative events ignited by charismatic leaders.
“Charisma touches something deeper in society, which is not always apparent,” Aberbach told me. “The key is there are some unpredictable elements in the life of a country or the life of a group, and when there are moments of particular distress, then certain individuals come forward who would not have come forward previously. They represent something essential in the capacity to deal with the crisis. There is marriage between what is going on between them internally and whatever is going on externally.”
.. A charismatic leader, Aberbach said, “releases the individual of the pressures of life under stress. If you join a group in those circumstances, you feel more protected. But that presupposes the vulnerability of the individual. When individuals feel more secure, they have less need for salvation, less need for a charismatic bond. But when they feel vulnerable, then there is a possibility of a charismatic attachment. This can be very dangerous in certain circumstances.”
Aberbach, a noted academic at McGill University and the London School of Economics, points to Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Adolf Hitler — two sides of the historical coin — as telling case studies. They both grew out of Depression-era needs of their respective nations. And they illustrate how profound an influence an individual charismatic can have.
“In the case of Roosevelt, he represented the ability to fight back in time of adversity,” Aberbach said. “On a personal level, he had fought back, and he could represent the nation that was fighting back. As a person, he could represent the group. In that sense, he was charismatic. I think that’s what it comes down to. The nation or the group seeks that person that represents them at a given time, and it’s unconscious.”
In the case of Hitler, Aberbach said, “A lot of people felt good when they heard him. It’s often forgotten because newsreel clips often represent him as a sort of raving lunatic. But in fact people were taken into a different kind of realm, a different kind of existence, where they felt one with Germany, they felt a sense of national pride, they felt an aggressive hope in their future.”
Hitler, Aberbach continued, gave people “a target of hatred, which is a convenient means of giving people who feel broken in life a sense of superiority, and also the capacity to blame someone for everything that has gone wrong outside themselves. He takes away personal responsibility, which is great relief for people who feel burdened by responsibility. They needed to forget, they needed to be transformed in a condition of crisis. That’s why crisis and charisma are so closely linked.”
The scientists agreed that charisma grabbed us on an emotional level. They also agreed snap judgments and subconscious fears could be overcome. In his bestseller Thinking Fast, Thinking Slow, Nobel Prize-winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman outlines two separate parallel decision circuits. The brain’s intuitive system is far faster than the rational system. The intuitive system, though, is prone to unconscious factors, based on limited personal experience and tendencies that result in irrational biases. But the slower, more rational system, centered in our prefrontal cortex, can serve as a potent check on unconscious tendencies — when we take the time to analyze them.
That was the final point Bart Campolo wanted to make about charisma: We could learn not to be taken in.
“You’re not going to stamp out charisma,” Campolo said. “The way to protect people from demagogues is not to kill all the demagogues but rather to teach people how charisma works so they can recognize whether it’s being wielded responsibly or abused. I always think charisma is like fire. You can use it to heat your house or you can use it to burn your house down.”
We take it for granted that President Trump says demonstrably false things on any number of topics. That is itself alarming.
But gross factual mischaracterizations have started to trickle down to the lawyers who serve at the president’s pleasure: At oral argument in the Supreme Court, for example, the solicitor general declared that the president had made it crystal clear that he would never follow through on his campaign promise to ban Muslims. In fact, the president never said any such thing.
.. In the case, Ms. L v. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the president has made the up-is-down claim that a Democratic law — the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act, in conjunction with the Homeland Security Act and statutes criminalizing illegal entry — requires him to separate families to protect the children.
.. The administration’s legal mumbo-jumbo attempts to use laws that are meant to protect vulnerable children as a screen to terrorize them and to deter immigrants from coming to the United States border.
.. The laws that Mr. Trump’s Justice Department cites — which apply to unaccompanied children, not children with parents — require no such thing.
.. Instead, the Homeland Security law, a statute governing the Office of Refugee Resettlement, gives custody of unaccompanied minors to that department, and very clearly not to the Department of Homeland Security, to address the challenges that children without parents face in the immigration system.
.. The statute that addresses child trafficking — part of the Trafficking Victims law — is designed to reduce the risk that children who are alone will fall victim to human trafficking. The administration is arguing that the laws do the opposite — that they make children more vulnerable to human trafficking and place children at greater risk in the immigration system — and so require the D.H.S. to separate families that would otherwise be together.
.. This is a specious use of law: It inverts the laws governing child immigration and uses them to exacerbate the very evil the law was designed to address.
.. Mr. Trump’s Justice Department is thus lying about what the tax bill did, and about Congress’s intent in passing it. And the department, like the president himself, is doing so as part of a transparent effort to rid the country of a law that Mr. Trump and his Republican caucus do not like but could not repeal through normal channels.
.. Lawyers, including at the Department of Justice, sometimes make aggressive arguments. But there is a difference between aggressive and preposterous, and between truths and untruths. The rule of law depends on these distinctions — to hold governments officials to the law, we need to be able to acknowledge what the law says.
.. The administration is simultaneously insisting that it must enforce a law that does not exist, but is refusing to defend a law that actually does exist, and jeopardizing the law in the process.
.. More likely, the administration will not persuade the current Supreme Court with these arguments. But it may be playing a long game that shifts expectations about legal arguments, and what falls within the bounds of reasonable — to make the law seem as manipulable, and therefore as easy to write off, as the facts.
This is a test for the courts. The executive and legislative branches have in too many ways capitulated to the president’s post-factual world. Will the legal system allow a post-legal one as well?
The church’s role is to change the world through the life and love of Jesus Christ. The government’s role is to serve the common good by protecting justice and peace, rewarding good behavior while restraining bad behavior (Romans 13). When that role is undermined by political leadership, faith leaders must stand up and speak out. Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “The church must be reminded that it is not the master or the servant of the state, but rather the conscience of the state.” 
.. I. WE BELIEVE each human being is made in God’s image and likeness (Genesis 1:26). That image and likeness confers a divinely decreed dignity, worth, and God-given equality to all of us as children of the one God who is the Creator of all things. Racial bigotry is a brutal denial of the image of God (the imago dei) in some of the children of God
.. III. WE BELIEVE how we treat the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, the stranger, the sick, and the prisoner is how we treat Christ himself. “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me” (Matthew 25:40).
.. God calls us to protect and seek justice for those who are poor and vulnerable, and our treatment of people who are “oppressed,” “strangers,” “outsiders,” or otherwise considered “marginal” is a test of our relationship to God, who made us all equal in divine dignity and love. Our proclamation of the lordship of Jesus Christ is at stake in our solidarity with the most vulnerable. If our gospel is not “good news to the poor,” it is not the gospel of Jesus Christ (Luke 4:18).
“Excuse me, when you look at Stormy Daniels,” Rudolph Giuliani, .. before interrupting himself to make a face. And what a face: Giuliani’s expression was, perhaps, meant to be one of knowing revulsion at Daniels, but the lopsided chaos of his features conveyed a moral contortion all his own. He had been explaining that Melania Trump believed in her husband implicitly, and so should everyone else, because he was Trump
.. Giuliani added, “I know Donald Trump. Look at his three wives, right?” It wasn’t clear if, with that questioning note, he was looking for a confirmation of the exact number of Trump’s wives. “Beautiful women, classy women, women of great substance. Stormy Daniels?” He paused to make another face
.. “But I’m sorry, I don’t respect a porn star the way I respect a career woman, or a woman of substance, or a woman who has great respect for herself as a woman, and as a person. And isn’t going to sell her body for sexual exploitation. So, Stormy, you want to bring a case? Let me cross-examine you.”
.. It is more of an honest living than some New York real-estate developers make.
.. she has also made it clear that she knew that she was taking a risk by opening herself up to this kind of attack
.. (Clifford has said that one of the new expenses she has taken on, in addition to her legal fees, is for security.)
.. Giuliani jumped in, seemingly intent on playacting the role of a beat cop from a past century, who, in dealing with the woman who comes to tell him her story, looks at what she is wearing, smirks, and turns away—or, as Giuliani suggested in his “cross-examine” remark, the role of the lawyer who has no better tactic than to try to humiliate a witness, labelling her a loose woman.
.. That is a form of sexual exploitation far more corrosive than any film that Clifford has ever made.
.. Giuliani’s comments went beyond whether Clifford could be believed to whether she could even be hurt. “Explain to me how she could be damaged,” he said. “She has no reputation. If you’re going to sell your body for money, you just don’t have a reputation.” But Clifford does not say that Trump, against whom she has filed a defamation suit (in the Southern District of New York, Giuliani’s old territory), damaged her by calling her an adult-film star. She says that he damaged her by saying, on Twitter, that her account of being threatened not to talk about their sexual encounter was “a total con job”—and that she, by implication, was a total con woman
.. when NBC asked Giuliani whether he regretted his remarks, he said that he did not, dressing up his denial with a vague reference to feminism and daughters. He also said, “I don’t have to undermine her credibility. She’s done it by lying.”
.. Giuliani, perhaps more than any of Trump’s other lawyers, has made Cohen sound like Trump’s bag man, with slush-fund-management responsibilities.
.. he corruption case against Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s Prime Minister, was a “joke”
.. Mueller’s team was trying to “frame” Trump.
.. while the President could be impeached, “in no case” could he be indicted or subpoenaed, not even “if he shot James Comey.” There is regular speculation about when Trump might fire Giuliani. But it may be that Giuliani is the President’s lawyer because he is the kind of lawyer Trump likes.
.. Giuliani’s remarks about Clifford are more than repugnant; they are revealing. They convey a political philosophy that he and the President share
.. those who are vulnerable are meant to be wounded, and have no right to ask for respect, let alone protection. It is a bully’s declaration of open season on the weak.
.. But Stephanie Clifford is not as defenseless as Giuliani or Trump might think. She has presented a credible and strikingly strong legal case. Maybe Giuliani should be listening to her.