Researchers from the universities of Cambridge and Stanford published results on Monday that indicate that psychological characteristics, especially cognitive characteristics, are much better at predicting extremist tendencies than age, income or degree.
All our findings together indicate that people with ideologically determined worldviews are less able to receive and process new information. That is the conclusion of Dr. Leor Zmigrod and her colleagues in human language. The article appeared Monday in the British scientific journal Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences.
Zmigrod and her team examined 334 Americans through 37 cognitive assignments – such as memorizing geometric shapes – and 22 personality tests. The researchers linked the results of both with far-reaching statistical models.
Impulsivity and poorer memory
In this way, the researchers found significant links between the performance in the cognitive tasks and the extent to which the participants adhere to their ideological preferences. Participants with an extremist attitude had a poorer working memory and stored new information more slowly. They also responded more impulsively and needed more excitement and sensation.
Dogmatism – the refusal of rational discussion of externally decided views – coincided with slower pick-up of new evidence and impulsive reactions. The latter has in common with an extremist attitude.
In addition, the scientists found that the participants’ ideological preferences were reflected in how they make decisions. Conservatism and nationalism appeared to be linked to more caution, while people with liberal ideas decided faster but with a higher risk of a wrong answer.
The scientific team is convinced that in the future this type of psychological profiling can serve to target people who are sensitive to the temptations of extremism. Zmigrod sees this lure in the unchanging and simple worldview that promotes extremism. People who have difficulty processing information would feel better about it.
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