Extremists find it harder to perform complex intellectual tasks

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In a recent study, US researchers linked individuals with extreme ideological positions to their cognitive abilities. These abilities would then enter the list of many factors explaining why one person espouses an extremist ideology more than another.

Cognitive abilities shape ideologies

Factors explaining why some people are extreme in their way of thinking are many. These include gender, age and social background. In a study published in the journal Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B on February 22, 2021, researchers from the University of Cambridge (United States) say they have identified another factor: the cognitive abilities of individuals.

Originally, the British team wondered if language, memory, intelligence and learning could influence the ideological positions and other nationalist, political or even dogmatic beliefs of individuals.

For two weeks, the study observed 330 volunteers living in the United States, whose age was between 22 and 63 years old. The researchers had them do 37 neuropsychological tasks and carried out 22 personality surveys. These tasks consisted of memorizing visual forms and performing speed exercises. However, these tasks were neutral, that is to say without any marker related to emotions or politics. According to the researchers, ideologies are well linked to cognitive decision-making.

Credits: Center for Secular Action

Difficulties for extremists who owe nothing to chance

The results of the study showed that individuals espousing extremist ideologies are less efficient to perform complex intellectual tasks. As Dr. Leor Zmigrod, one of the study’s co-authors, explains, however, this is not really a coincidence. According to her, extremists tend to see the world “in black and white”. They are from elsewhere more impulsive, because less inclined to manage their emotions.

Participants in the grip of dogmatism (firmly rejecting criticism as well as doubt) have a problem in terms of perception and understanding. processing of evidence. Indeed, this task would take them more time. As for people with conservative political views, they rather adopted a slow and cautious strategy. On the other hand, the Liberals have an approach that is certainly faster, but also less precise.

Scientists have come to the following conclusion: extremism as a whole is just a mixture of conservative and dogmatic psychology. Let us mention in passing that the objective of this study was to find an effective way to identify and help the people most vulnerable to radicalization.

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