People with extremist views less able to do complex mental tasks, research suggests
Guardian: Our brains hold clues for the ideologies we choose to live by, according to research, which has suggested that people who espouse extremist attitudes tend to perform poorly on complex mental tasks.
Researchers from the University of Cambridge sought to evaluate whether cognitive disposition – differences in how information is perceived and processed – sculpt ideological world-views such as political, nationalistic and dogmatic beliefs, beyond the impact of traditional demographic factors like age, race and gender.
- The results reveal both diversity and specificity in the psychological correlates of political conservatism, dogmatism and religiosity.
- The political conservatism factor, which reflects tendencies towards political conservatism and nationalism, was significantly associated with greater caution and temporal discounting and reduced strategic information processing in the cognitive domain, and by greater goal-directedness, impulsivity, and reward sensitivity, and reduced social risk-taking in the personality domain.
- As an illustration, figure 5 demonstrates the cognitive correlates of all the ideological orientations captured by the political conservatism factor, revealing that the conservative-leaning political ideologies were consistently related to greater caution on speeded tasks and reduced strategic information processing, with some variability in the role of temporal discounting, perceptual processing time and speed of evidence accumulation.
- The dogmatism factor was significantly associated with reduced speed of evidence accumulation in the cognitive domain and by reduced social risk-taking and agreeableness as well as heightened impulsivity and ethical risk-taking in the personality domain.
- Similarly to political conservatism, the religiosity factor was also significantly associated with greater caution on speeded tasks, and reduced strategic information processing and social risk-taking, but in contrast to dogmatism and political conservatism, religiosity was associated with greater agreeableness and risk perception
The study, built on previous research, included more than 330 US-based participants aged 22 to 63 who were exposed to a battery of tests – 37 neuropsychological tasks and 22 personality surveys – over the course of two weeks.
The tasks were engineered to be neutral, not emotional or political – they involved, for instance, memorising visual shapes. The researchers then used computational modelling to extract information from that data about the participant’s perception and learning, and their ability to engage in complex and strategic mental processing.
Overall, the researchers found that ideological attitudes mirrored cognitive decision-making, according to the study published in the journal Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B.
A key finding was that people with extremist attitudes tended to think about the world in black and white terms, and struggled with complex tasks that required intricate mental steps, said lead author Dr Leor Zmigrod at Cambridge’s department of psychology.
“Individuals or brains that struggle to process and plan complex action sequences may be more drawn to extreme ideologies, or authoritarian ideologies that simplify the world,” she said. Read more…