Extremist brains perform poorly in complex mental tasks and analysis shows that


According to new studies, people with radical views are not defined solely by their political, religious, or social convictions.

Scientists claim that these ideological views run deep, so deep, in reality, that they can be identified in a 'psychological signature' of cognitive characteristics and abilities that typifies the radical mind's thought patterns.

In the minds of those most likely to take drastic steps to uphold their ideological doctrines, latent parallels tend to exist, explains psychologist Leor Zmigrod.

She and colleagues write in their newly published study that this psychological signature is novel and should stimulate more studies on the impact of dogmatism on perceptual decision-making processes.

In addition, these psychological trends may be what forces certain people, the researchers say, to embrace strong or extreme ideological positions in the first place.

Subtle problems with nuanced mental processing can subconsciously drive people towards extreme doctrines that provide the world with simpler, more established explanations, rendering them susceptible, Zmigrod says, to toxic types of dogmatic and authoritarian ideologies.

The participants completed a comprehensive series of 'brain games' experiments in a previous, unrelated study involving the same group of individuals, cognitive and behavioral exercises on a computer, designed to assess items such as their working memory, processing of knowledge, listening, and mindfulness, among others.

She made a startling observation when Zmigrod ran the findings from the ideological questionnaires against the cognitive tests.

We found that people with extremist views, she states, appeared to perform poorly on complex mental tasks.

They were struggling to finish psychological assessments involving complicated mental moves.

Specifically, those with extremist views displayed weaker working memory, slower perceptual techniques and impulsive, sensation-seeking behaviors, such as promoting violence toward specific groups of society.

The studies, however, not only highlighted the characteristics of extremist thought, but the form of their psychological signatures was also shown by other kinds of ideological beliefs.


The researchers found that participants who exhibited dogmatic thinking were slower to gather evidence in rapid decision-making activities, but were also more impulsive and vulnerable to ethical risks.




Politically conservative individuals exhibited decreased strategic information gathering, increased caution of response in perceptual decision-making paradigms, and demonstrated an aversion to social risk-taking.

Participants with liberal convictions, on the other hand, were more likely to follow quicker and less reliable perceptual techniques, showing less caution in cognitive tasks.


Similar to the conservative community, individuals with religious beliefs reflected increased caution and decreased processing of strategic information in the cognitive domain, along with increased agreeability, perception of danger and aversion to social risk-taking.

Our research demonstrates that our brains contain clues, maybe subtle metaphors, for the philosophies we want to abide by and the values we rigidly adhere to, explains Zmigrod.

When our mind appears to respond with caution to stimuli, it may also be drawn to cautious and conservative ideologies. We can be drawn to more radical philosophies that simplify the world and our position within it if we fail to process and organise complicated action sequences.

Of course, the findings here are subject to a fair degree of interpretation, and without further replication involving larger groups, there are limits on what relatively small psychological research like this can teach us.

The approach here, however, may lay the foundations for potential psychological studies that might be able to classify people at risk of radicalization and embrace extremist views, as well as show what kind of thought shields others from the same.


The [analysis] shows the forms in which perceptual decision-making methods can percolate through high-level ideological views, indicating that the authors write in their review that a dissection of the cognitive anatomy of ideologies is a fruitful and enlightening endeavor.

It elucidates both the cognitive vulnerabilities to toxic agendas and the qualities that make people more mentally humble, open to proof and eventually immune to radical rhetoric.

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