A brain prone to extremism finds it difficult to obtain new information …

Researchers from Cambridge and Stanford universities published findings Monday indicating that psychological characteristics, and especially cognitive characteristics, are much better at predicting extreme tendencies of age, income, or degree.

All of our findings together indicate that people with ideologically defined views are less able to receive and process new information. This is the conclusion of Dr. Lior Zmigrod and colleagues on Human Language. The article was published in the British scientific journal Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences on Monday.

Zmigrod and her team examined 334 Americans through 37 cognitive tasks – such as memorizing geometric shapes – and 22 personality tests. The researchers linked the results of both to long-term statistical models.

Impulsivity and poor memory

In this way, the researchers found important links between performance on cognitive tasks and the degree to which participants adhered to their ideological preferences. Participants with extreme situations had poor working memory and stored new information more slowly. They also responded more impulsively and needed more excitement and sensation.

Dogmatism – a rejection of rational discussion of outside viewpoints – coincided with a slower pick-up of new evidence and impulsive responses. The latter has an extreme in common.

Detecting extremism

Additionally, the scientists found that the participants’ ideological preferences were reflected in how they made decisions. Conservatism and nationalism appear to be associated with greater caution, while people with liberal ideas make decisions faster but with a greater risk of getting an incorrect answer.

The science team is convinced that this kind of psychological profiling in the future could target people who are sensitive to the temptations of extremism. Zmigrod sees this temptation in the simple worldview that encourages extremism. People who have difficulty processing information will feel better about it.

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Denton Watson

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