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Home Science Extremist Brains Perform Poorly at Complex Mental Tasks, Study Reveals

Extremist Brains Perform Poorly at Complex Mental Tasks, Study Reveals

People with extremist views aren’t solely recognized by their political, spiritual, or social beliefs, in accordance with new analysis.

Those ideological convictions run deep, scientists say – so deep, in truth, that they are often recognised in a ‘psychological signature’ of cognitive traits and aptitudes that typifies the pondering patterns of the extremist thoughts.


“There appear to be hidden similarities in the minds of those most willing to take extreme measures to support their ideological doctrines,” explains psychologist Leor Zmigrod from the University of Cambridge.

“This psychological signature is novel and should inspire further research on the effect of dogmatism on perceptual decision-making processes,” she and colleagues write of their newly revealed research.

Moreover, it is doable these psychological patterns might be what compels some people to undertake sturdy or radical ideological positions within the first occasion, the researchers recommend.

“Subtle difficulties with complex mental processing may subconsciously push people towards extreme doctrines that provide clearer, more defined explanations of the world, making them susceptible to toxic forms of dogmatic and authoritarian ideologies,” Zmigrod says.

In the new research, Zmigrod and fellow researchers ran an experiment with 334 members, who offered demographic info and stuffed out a collection of ideological questionnaires about their private beliefs, together with political, social, and spiritual beliefs.

In a earlier, unrelated research involving the identical group of individuals, the members had carried out an intensive set of ‘mind video games’ checks – cognitive and behavioural duties on a pc, designed to check issues like their working reminiscence, info processing, studying, and mindfulness, amongst others.


When Zmigrod ran the outcomes from the ideological questionnaires towards the cognitive checks, she made a stunning discovery.

“We found that individuals with extremist attitudes tended to perform poorly on complex mental tasks,” she explains in The Conversation.

“They struggled to complete psychological tests that require intricate mental steps.”

Specifically, these with extremist attitudes – akin to endorsing violence towards particular teams in society – confirmed poorer working reminiscence, slower perceptual methods, and impulsive, sensation-seeking tendencies.

However, the checks did not solely highlight the traits of extremist pondering – different kinds of ideological beliefs additionally revealed the form of their psychological signatures.

Participants who confirmed dogmatic pondering had been slower to build up proof in speeded decision-making duties, the researchers discovered, however had been additionally extra impulsive and vulnerable to taking moral dangers.

Individuals who had been politically conservative confirmed diminished strategic info processing, heightened response warning in perceptual decision-making paradigms, and displayed an aversion to social risk-taking.

In distinction, members with liberal beliefs had been extra more likely to undertake quicker and fewer exact perceptual methods, displaying much less warning in cognitive duties.

Similarly to the conservative group, folks with spiritual views mirrored heightened warning and diminished strategic info processing within the cognitive area, together with enhanced agreeableness, threat notion and aversion to social risk-taking.


“Our research shows our brains hold clues – subtle metaphors, perhaps – for the ideologies we choose to live by and the beliefs we rigidly stick to,” Zmigrod explains.

“If our mind tends to react to stimuli with caution, it may also be attracted by cautious and conservative ideologies. If we struggle to process and plan complex action sequences, we may be drawn to more extreme ideologies that simplify the world and our role within it.”

Of course, the outcomes listed below are open to a good diploma of interpretation, and there are limitations to what comparatively small psychological research like this could inform us with out additional replication involving bigger samples.

Nonetheless, the methodology right here may lay the groundwork for future psychological checks that might be able to determine people at threat of radicalisation and adopting extremist beliefs – in addition to suggesting what sort of pondering shields others from the identical.

“The [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,” the authors write of their research.

“It elucidates both the cognitive vulnerabilities to toxic ideologies as well as the traits that make individuals more intellectually humble, receptive to evidence and ultimately resilient to extremist rhetoric.”

The findings are reported in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B.


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