Study unveils distinct set of cognitive and personality attributes associated with extremist views

Based on a recent study published in the journal Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B, people prone to holding extreme political or religious beliefs are more likely to have a certain mix of personality and cognitive signatures.

According to researchers at the University of Cambridge, a number of cognitive tasks and personality surveys enabled them to evaluate what cognitive and personality attributes are most in sync with extreme ideologies.

“This data-driven approach revealed striking parallels between individuals’ low-level cognitive dispositions and their high-level political, social and dogmatic attitudes,” wrote Leor Zmigrod and his colleagues, in their journal report.

“The examination of a range of ideological attitudes pertaining to politics, nationalism, religion and dogmatism exposed remarkable similarities and differences between the psychological correlates of diverse ideological orientations, demonstrating that there may be core psychological underpinnings of ideological thinking across domains,” the research team also wrote.

Using both cognitive and emotional attributes, researchers were able to predict the onset of support for violence tied to an extreme ideology.

For instance, when examining conservatism, researchers linked its belief to cognitive caution, which is comprised of slow-and-accurate unconscious decision-making; a contrasting pattern when compared to the mindset of liberals.

“Political conservatism was best explained by reduced strategic information processing, heightened response caution in perceptual decision-making paradigms, and an aversion to social risk-taking,” researchers stated in their journal report.

Among people who are devoted to religious beliefs, the psychological signature was comprised of “heightened caution and reduced strategic information processing in the cognitive domain (similarly to conservatism), and enhanced agreeableness, risk perception and aversion to social risk-taking, in the personality domain,” the report stated.

The study evaluated other extreme ideologies, but all together their findings unveil the significance of perceptual decision-making strategies in the formation of ideological beliefs.

“The present data-driven analysis reveals the ways in which perceptual decision-making strategies can percolate into high-level ideological beliefs, suggesting that a dissection of the cognitive anatomy of ideologies is a productive and illuminating endeavour,” researchers concluded.

The study was authored by Leor Zmigrod, Ian Eisenberg, Patrick Bissett, Trevor Robbins, and Russell Poldrack.

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